Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak in the House today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the parallel agreements on labour and the environment. This agreement is an important part of our government's ambitious free trade agenda, as well as Canada's deepening engagement in the Americas.
As an export-driven economy, it is in Canada's best economic interest to open up as many foreign markets as possible for our producers and our exporters. By increasing access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses, we can foster economic growth and create new jobs for Canadian workers, which is crucial in these difficult economic times. That is why this government is actively engaging in numerous free trade agreement negotiations in this region and elsewhere in order to build on Canada's already existing network of trade agreements.
Since 2006, the Government of Canada has achieved a forward-looking track in international trade. We are engaged in talks on an economic partnership agreement with India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have opened up new trade offices in critical global markets, such as China, India and Brazil, to help Canadian companies and investors deepen their engagement in these countries, as well as five new trade offices within Canada to work with companies locally.
Since 2006, we have signed bilateral science and technology agreements with both China and Brazil. We have also signed a trade co-operation agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Today, Canadians reap the benefits from several long-standing free trade agreements in force, notably the North American free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico and separate bilateral agreements with Chile, Costa Rica and Israel.
More recently, on July 1, 2009, a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association countries of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein came into force. This agreement is notable for being the first free trade agreement that Canada has conducted with European countries. More important, however, this agreement increases the market access for Canadian exporters to the lucrative and sophisticated European markets. Through this deal, Canadian businesses gained immediate benefits through the elimination of duties on all Canadian non-agricultural merchandise. Tariffs were eliminated or reduced on selected Canadian agricultural exports, such as durum wheat, frozen french fries, beer and crude canola oil. However, this reduction in tariffs is not the only benefit of this agreement. Thanks to this deal, Canadian companies can now access innovative technologies and other inputs from these European markets at lower costs, including through the importation of machinery and scientific and precision instruments.
However, the agreement with the European Free Trade Association is not the only recent trade agreement that Canada has implemented. On August 1, 2009, the Canada-Peru free trade agreement, along with agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, came into force. The free trade agreement with Peru contains considerable benefits for Canada. For instance, Canadian producers immediately benefited from the elimination of tariffs on 95% of current Canadian exports to Peru, with most remaining tariffs to be eliminated over a period of five to ten years.
Products that received immediate duty free access to Peru include wheat, barley, lentils, peas and selected boneless beef cuts, a variety of paper products and machinery and equipment. Canadian businesses also received improved market access in other sectors of the Peruvian economy, such as mining, energy and professional services, as well as banking, insurance and securities.
This government is continuing to pursue ambitious trade agreements with others as well. That is why, on March 24 this government tabled implementing legislation for the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement along with parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. Through this goods-only agreement, Canadian businesses will have improved market access to Middle Eastern countries. In particular, once the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement comes into force, tariffs on over 99% of recent Canadian exports to Jordan will be eliminated.
Key Canadian sectors that will benefit from this immediate duty-free access include forestry, manufacturing and agriculture and agri-food, sectors in which Canadian companies are global leaders. Given these benefits to the Canadian economy, this government is working toward the implementation of the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement as soon as possible.
This government's free trade agenda, however, does not stop there. On August 11, 2009, the Prime Minister announced the conclusion of negotiations of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, as well as parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.
These agreements, which are currently undergoing legal review, are another important pillar of this government's plan to increase market access for Canadian exporters. Once enforced, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will improve market access for goods and services and provide a stable and predictable environment for investments in Panama.
In the meantime, while this House debates the Colombia and Jordan free trade agreements and while the agreement with Panama is undergoing legal review, this government is working on numerous other fronts to conclude additional trade agreements.
That is why at the Canada-European Union Summit in May 2009 this government launched negotiations toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. A third round of talks with the European Union are taking place this week. These negotiations not only enjoy wide support among the private sector on both sides of the Atlantic, but the provinces and the territories are involved at a unprecedented level in these negotiations.
Meanwhile, negotiations with the Caribbean community are also progressing. The second round of negotiations between Canada and the Caribbean officials took place a few weeks ago.
Canadian officials also held a negotiating round last month with their counterparts from Central America as part of the ongoing negotiations between Canada and the four Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
This government remains dedicated to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiation with other partners, including South Korea, Singapore and the Dominican Republic, as well as seeking ambitious opportunities elsewhere.
For instance, Canada has started exploring deeper trade ties with India. To this end, in November 2009, Canada and India agreed to establish a joint study group to look at key sectors of interest and the possible parameters of a comprehensive trade agreement. The first meeting of this joint study group took place in Delhi this past December, and officials from both sides are currently working to complete the study.
Canada is also currently involved in technical discussions with Japan.
What does an active trade agenda really mean for Canada? To put it in straightforward terms, by bringing down barriers to trade and investment, the government will help Canadian businesses compete in an ever more competitive world while also stimulating the Canadian economy.
This is where the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement plays an important role. Once implemented, this agreement will reduce tariffs for Canadian producers who want to export to Colombia, as well as expanding opportunities for Canadian investors and service providers. This agreement will also help Colombia build a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy, a democracy that can contribute to growth and economic stability in the region.
In these difficult economic times, we cannot hide behind trade barriers. Protectionism is not the answer. Partnerships are. Canadians can count on this government to lead efforts in securing foreign markets for Canadian businesses and take every opportunity to oppose protectionism and defend free and open trade on the world stage.
I will make it clear once more. Since we took office, we have conducted 14 ministerial visits to China, including recent visits in April 2009 by the Ministers of Trade, Finance and Foreign Affairs. We have made significant investments to develop the Asia-Pacific gateway, a corridor initiative to make it easier for goods to flow between Canada and Asia, by spending over $2.5 billion.
Our government has opened six new trade offices in Chinese cities to attract trade and investment to Canada. This will help Canadian businesses reach the Chinese market.
Our government also recently opened three new trade offices in India, bringing the total to eight, and making our network in India one of Canada's largest world wide.
Our government continues to expand Canada's trade network around the world. We have begun discussions for trade agreements with the European Union and India. We have completed new free trade agreements. We have more on the way with countries such as Morocco and Ukraine.
This is why I ask for the support of all hon. members for the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Let us stand up for Canadian workers. Let us stand up for freer trade and increased competitiveness. Canadians expect it and our government will continue to deliver it.