Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the House today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
This is an important agreement for Canada, Canadian workers and our farmers and producers alike. Farmers need trade to survive.
Now more than ever, we need to be doing everything we can to open doors for Canadians, to create new commercial opportunities around the world and to work beyond our borders to help Canadians to succeed. Canadian businesses need access to markets in order to compete, grow and succeed. That is why the free trade agreement is such an important accomplishment.
Canadian businesses and investors have long called for closer economic co-operation with Colombia, and our government will answer the call.
In 2009, our two-way trade in merchandise totalled $1.3 billion. Key Canadian products, such as cereals, wheat and barley, machinery, pulse crops, paper and motor vehicles, are the driving forces behind this achievement. Once this new agreement is in place, it will be easier for Canadian companies to trade in those products, along with many other products, like beef, pork, liquor, wine, machinery and mining equipment. Trade will flourish. These companies certainly see the clear progress Colombians have made in recent years to tackle difficult challenges in their own country. Our government wants to continue to support this progress and to help create new opportunities for Colombians within our commercial relationship, and we want to do so in a positive and responsible manner.
Our companies recognize the economic potential of Colombia. I will give a specific example. Earlier this month, our government announced that Colombia has reopened its market to Canadian cattle effective immediately. This is proof of the strong relationship we have with Colombia and now we are getting things done for Canadian farmers.
Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters. It is a significant growing source for imports that are important to Canadian consumers and businesses. At the same time, it is a very appealing market for exporters and foreign investors. It is a market of 48 million people.
Once this free trade agreement is in place, Canadian exporters and investors in a broad range of sectors will benefit from lower trade and investment barriers in the Colombian market.
Upon its implementation, Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all current exports, including wheat, pulses and mining equipment. The reality is that Canadian exports, particularly commodities, are already at some disadvantage due to many of our main competitors, such as the U.S., and their geographic closeness to their markets.
These disadvantages of course will get worse if the U.S. and Colombia sign their own free trade agreement. If we wait to implement our agreement, we risk seeing Canadian exporters further disadvantaged in the important market. Many other Canadian exporters stand to lose by delaying implementation of this agreement.
Colombia maintains a tariff averaging 17% on agriculture products, with tariffs ranging from 10% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for beef products and 60% for beans. Indeed, agriculture was a key driver for these free trade agreement negotiations. From the very start, we were guided by the principles that a successful outcome in agriculture would be absolutely critical.
Once this free trade agreement is in place, 80% of our agriculture tariffs will be eliminated immediately. This translates into about $25 million of annual duty savings for our producers in key sectors, such as wheat, barley, lentils, beans and beef. Clearly this is a significant benefit for our agriculture sector.
We need this free trade agreement to provide competitive access for Canadian products. By creating new market opportunities for Canadian exporters, this free trade agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector. This sector has been particularly vulnerable during these tough economic times. This sector needs opportunities for growth.
Growth can be achieved in Colombia. With rapid growth in the Colombian economy in recent years, prior to the economic downturn, Canadian companies have made important investments. The strong presence of Canadian companies has also created many export opportunities for Canadian exports of industrial goods.
Some of Canada's leading exporters to Colombia include off-road dump trucks and auto parts. Mining equipment designed and built in Saskatchewan has also found a place in Colombia. Both those products will likely benefit from increasing market access through this free trade agreement.
We need to create these opportunities for Canadian businesses to increase their export potential. Trade agreements are a critical part of these efforts.
We have entered an age of fierce global competition as emerging economies continue climbing the value chain and establishing themselves in an ever-widening range of sectors. We need to listen to Canadian businesses, help them expand their reach into exciting markets and put them on a level playing field with their competitors. The time for Canada to act is now.
Canadian businesses and workers expect their government to put in place trade agreements that allow them to compete in international markets on a level playing field. They have come before the Standing Committee on International Trade on these issues to speak to the benefits of this agreement. We cannot put our exporters at a relative disadvantage.
The Colombia free trade agreement also forms part of the government's efforts to strengthen Canada's engagement in the Americas by fostering economic development and strengthening democracy and security.
As we know, Colombia, as a nation, is making substantial progress toward becoming a more stable and secure nation. Our government wants to support these efforts. Free trade is a vehicle that can help us do that and give entrepreneurship a chance to thrive in communities across the country. We all want a democratic and secure hemisphere, one that is free of the shackles of terrorism, crime and instability. However, we cannot have a democratic and secure nation without creating a path for its own aspirations or without creating jobs and opportunities through the power of international trade and investment. That is what the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement would help to do.
At the same time as we signed this free trade agreement, we also signed two parallel agreements on labour and the environment. These agreements commit both nations to work together to ensure high levels of protection for workers and the environment. Canada believes that freer trade and investment can and must go hand in hand with labour rights and the environment. These agreements with our Colombia partners prove it.
This free trade agreement not only benefits Canada, but it benefits our Colombia partners too.
We are a trading nation. Our businesses can compete with the best in the world. Today I am proud to say that we can find Canadian businesses, Canadian products and Canadian investment dollars at work all over the world.
We have debated this agreement for some 30 hours. We know the merits of this agreement. It is time that we listen to our Canadian companies and work to ensure that they maintain their competitiveness in this market and have a chance to pursue new opportunities.
For those reasons and for the many benefits to our Colombian partners that this agreement would bring, I ask for the support of all hon. members from all parties to stand up for Canadian workers. We must continue these efforts and create new opportunities for all Canadians to thrive and prosper in this global economy.