Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back in the House with my colleagues. It is especially an honour to speak again on this important Canada-Colombia free trade agreement that has been in the House for many months. We want to ensure that we have a good fulsome discussion and debate and have the facts presented as it is an important agreement for Canada and Colombia as we move forward in the global commerce village.
I would also like to thank the hon. member for Kings—Hants who had a chance to travel to Colombia this summer. The trade committee went last May, but he was not on the committee at that time. He and his colleague from Toronto Centre had a chance to see first-hand the fantastic city of Bogota and the opportunities for Canada and Colombia as we move forward with this agreement.
As we continue to expand markets worldwide, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the Minister of International Trade, the member from Okanagan—Coquihalla, who is also my adjacent neighbour. I know how busy he is and how far around the globe he has travelled to open markets for Canadian businesses. He has been away from home for many days trying to look after our community. Ministers have a difficult task ensuring their constituents are looked after as well as facing the demands of our country. I thank the minister for his continued time and dedication to our community and our country.
We continue to open doors and create new opportunities to strengthen Canada's economy in the face of the current economic downturn. We all know these are challenging times. We have heard from our constituents the fact that for so many years Canada has been reliant on the United States for our free trade. It is a great neighbour to the south and we want to continue to foster that relationship.
If individuals put 80% or 85% of their investments in one portfolio and the market crashes, they soon realize that it is good to diversify. This is one thing that Canada has not done. The previous international trade minister, Mr. Emerson, and now the Minister of International Trade, the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, continues to expand part of the Conservative government's global commerce strategy.
Colombia is already a significant trading partner with Canada. We saw that first-hand when our committee was there last May. We had a chance to meet with individuals and several companies from Colombia as well as Canadian companies doing business there, bringing the corporate social responsibility model forward.
Colombia is an important destination for exporters and producers. Over the last five years, Canadian exports have doubled, reaching over $704 million in 2008.
The Colombian market is an exciting one, with approximately 47 million people who are very educated, skilled and an innovative workforce. They want to expand and share their skills and their products and services with us and we want to do the same, and there is no better way than to move this free trade agreement forward.
By eliminating tariffs on a range of products, Canadian exporters and producers will benefit and become more competitive against those in other nations that are also trading with Colombia.
A free trade agreement would mean the removal of barriers that limit Canadian participation in growing markets and the elimination of tariffs on Canadian exports to help make Canadian goods more competitive in a range of sectors including mining, agriculture and agri-food products.
It would mean a level playing field for Canadian businesses vis-à-vis their competitors that are benefiting from preferential market access terms. Basically we are levelling the playing field.
It would enhance market access for Canadian service providers in areas such as financial, professional, engineering, environmental, mining, oil and gas and construction services, just to name a few.
It would also secure and have a predictable environment for investors. That stability is important to ensure that people have the confidence to invest in foreign countries.
It would also lower prices and improve choice for consumers. We all like to have a greater variety of selection and more choice, which generally means a more competitive market and better prices for Canadian consumers as well.
The bottom line is results for Canadians: a new partnership; new customers; new investors; new links in supply and product chains; and new choices for consumers. In short, Canada would benefit from this agreement.
Sometimes it is difficult to take in the whole picture of how an agreement like this would benefit individual regions or provinces, so this afternoon I will focus my remarks on the benefits of this agreement to specific regions and provinces across the country.
As I mentioned, Canada is already an established and growing market for Canadian exporters in many different sectors, including wheat, pulses, machinery, mining equipment and paper products. Once this new agreement is in place, we expect even more businesses and communities across the country to benefit. The agreement will also help us to sharpen our competitive edge relative to competitors like the EU and the U.S. which have similar negotiations in progress with Colombia.
Our Conservative government knows that Canadian business can compete with the best in the world and we have shown that with other agreements we spoke about earlier today. The minister has been to China and India recently. The Minister of Finance was there as well this summer to expand our Asian market, including Jordan. We are looking at new opportunities throughout the globe to continue to open doors. In today's tough economic times this agreement gives us market access and the level playing field to do it.
Let us start with the benefits of this agreement to Atlantic Canada. Last year, the provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador exported about $129 million worth of exports to Colombia, directly benefiting such core sectors as oil, paper, paperboard and fertilizers. These sectors will benefit enormously from freer trade with Colombia.
What about machinery and industrial goods? It is no secret that Canadian manufacturers, especially in Canada's industrial heartland in Ontario and Quebec, are facing tough times these days. They need all the opportunities they can get to ride out this economic storm. That means opening doors in markets like Colombia. This is especially beneficial for dump trucks which is one of the biggest machines exported from Canada.
With this agreement, Colombian tariffs on most machinery and industrial goods would be eliminated. This is especially significant for Canadian manufacturers of mining equipment centred in Ontario and Quebec. This agreement is very important for the Province of Quebec. After all, 17% of Canada's exports to Colombia were from Quebec, almost a full fifth. Quebeckers employed in sectors like the paper and paperboard industry, copper and machinery, will benefit significantly from free trade with Colombia.
The prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will also benefit greatly from this agreement. The immediate removal of Colombian tariffs from such cornerstone crops as wheat and pulses will make these products from the Canadian Prairies even more competitive in the global market, and the Colombian market will add that much more opportunity for these businesses to expand.
Prairie producers are a cornerstone of our economy. They will see clear benefits from free trade with Colombia. I should also point out that Alberta enjoys a significant investment presence in the Colombian market thanks to companies like Enbridge, Talisman, Petrobank and Nexen. We had the opportunity to meet with some of those business leaders as our trade committee travelled around Colombia.
As oil and gas projects continue developing in the Andes we fully expect this presence to deepen. Our free trade agreement with Colombia will help secure Canadian investments in the region by providing greater predictability and protection for investors. These investment provisions will directly benefit those Alberta firms which are investing in Colombia.
Madam Speaker, like yourself coming from British Columbia, I have the honour of representing the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country in the Okanagan. Our province also stands to greatly benefit from this agreement, especially British Columbia's mechanical, machinery and paper industries. In fact, many B.C. companies have told us they are looking to expand trade with Colombia, including Greystar Resources and IMW Industries of Chilliwack. With these kinds of benefits across Canada, it is no wonder that Canadian businesses, investors and producers alike have been calling for closer commercial ties with Colombia for some time now. The time to act is now.
Colombia has an ambitious and aggressive free trade agreement that includes some key competitors for Canada, competitors like the United States and the European Union. Time is of the essence. Our Conservative government knows that we need to take steps sooner rather than later to ensure that Canadian exporters, investors and producers, and regions and provinces across the country are not put at a disadvantage relative to our competitors. They can compete with the best in the world. Let us give them the opportunity to do so, to ride out the current economic storm, and emerge on the other side stronger and more competitive than before.
In closing, that is why I ask all hon. members in the House to support the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, a free and fair trade agreement that gives hope and opportunity for individuals and businesses in Canada and Columbia, and help us take that next step in building a more globally competitive Canada for the future.