Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak to Bill C-2.
I want to speak to the point that my friend from Windsor West raised in terms of trade. We need to make it very clear. Canada already does trade with Colombia. There is some $1.3 billion in two-way trade right now, with $602 million in Canadian exports and $734 million in imports.
It is important to understand that the purpose of the free trade agreement is to institute some rules-based trading. To say that there is no trading going on right now would be disingenuous and quite frankly misleading. There is trade right now. We are trying to make sure it is rules based so that we can move forward on a stronger footing.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement because it is an important agreement for Canada. It has been the subject of extensive debate and study by the House and the Standing Committee on International Trade.
At the standing committee alone there has been over 35 hours of witness testimony on the free trade agreement. In the House, opposition members have spoken 99 times to Bill C-23 which was in a previous Parliament, as well as Bill C-2.
The New Democratic Party members have made it clear that they are opposed to free trade. As a matter of fact, they have never met a free trade deal they did not oppose. They have spoken 40 times to these bills despite only having 36 members. We can do the math on that one.
The committee has heard from over 90 witnesses who have shared their knowledge and views on this agreement. Some organizations have appeared more than once. This is in addition to the visit by the standing committee to Colombia to study Canada's commercial relationship with Colombia. During this visit alone, members of Parliament were able to meet with over 50 Colombian stakeholders.
What have members of the House and members of the committee heard time and time again during their discussions on the free trade agreement? They have heard that this is a strong commercial agreement for Canada and for Colombia.
Certainly no one is saying that Colombia is a country that has fixed all its problems. While we were in Colombia listening to testimony, people talked openly. The government talked openly of the struggles the country has had in terms of civil unrest and civil war over the years. We would be hard pressed to find anyone with the government or civil society who has not said that conditions have improved.
That is one of the things we are talking about here today. As we heard from SNC-Lavalin when it appeared before committee, more and more engagement of Canadian companies and good Canadian values are more likely to help the situation than to make it worse.
We must move forward now with the passage of this free trade agreement. Canadian business is looking to Parliament to do everything we can to open doors for Canadians, to create new commercial opportunities around the world and to work with our partners to help our citizens succeed.
To allow this to happen, Canadian companies need improved access to markets in order to compete. That is why this free trade agreement is such an important accomplishment. Trade between our countries is significant.
In 2009, as I mentioned when I started my speech, our two-way trade in merchandise totalled $1.3 billion. Key Canadian products such as pulse crops, paper, wheat, barley, machinery and motor vehicles are exported to Colombia. Canadian companies and producers of these products are counting on the passage of the free trade agreement. Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters and foreign investors. It is a growing market of 48 million people.
As soon as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement comes into effect, exporters and investors in Canada will enjoy lower trade and investment barriers in the Colombia market.
Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all current Canadian exports, including wheat, pulses and mining equipment. The competitive advantage that will be provided for Canadians with the removal of these tariffs is significant. The removal will help Canadian workers, farmers and businesses stay ahead of their global competitors.
Canadian exporters, particularly of the commodities, are already at a disadvantage compared to their U.S. counterparts due to higher transportation costs. These disadvantages could become even worse if the U.S.-Colombia agreement comes into force. As well, Colombia has been aggressively expanding its commercial relations with other countries, having recently concluded negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union and it is currently in negotiations with Panama and South Korea. If we wait to implement our agreement, we risk seeing Canadian exporters further disadvantaged in this important market.
Colombia maintains tariffs averaging 17% on agricultural products, with tariffs ranging from 15% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for some beef products and 60% for certain beans. Indeed, agriculture was a key driver for these free trade agreement negotiations, and a successful outcome of agriculture was absolutely critical.
Tariffs on 86% of Canadian agricultural exports will be eliminated immediately when the free trade agreement comes into force. That translates into about $25 million in annual duty savings in sectors such as wheat, barley, lentils, beans and beef. Clearly, this is a significant amount and will certainly provide additional incentive for Colombian companies to buy Canadian goods.
During one of its appearances before the standing committee, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association was quite candid with its views:
I'm interested in making the lives of Canadian beef producers better. I think this agreement and other trade agreements do that.
This government echoes these remarks. We are working on trying to support Canadian farmers and to make the lives of Canadians better by creating jobs and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of this country.
The benefits of this trade agreement extend beyond agriculture. By creating new market opportunities for Canadian exporters, this agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector, growth that can be achieved in Colombia. Off-road dump trucks, auto parts and machinery are some of Canada's leading exports to Colombia. These products will benefit from increased market access through this agreement.
We need to listen to Canadian businesses and help them expand their reach into this exciting market. The time for Canada to act is now. Our trade with Colombia is complementary. Both countries have a lot to gain.
It has been mentioned by members on the opposite side that there is a number of issues facing Colombia. They talk about the paramilitary, the FARC. One of the things they forget to factor into the equation is the extensive illegal drug market in Colombia. What this deal does is it helps Colombians rely less on drugs and more on trade.
This is trying to provide opportunities for Colombians so that they do not need to rely solely on the illegal drug market that has plagued Colombia. This is about trying to create additional opportunities. When we say we will not provide opportunities or will not give them an opportunity to trade, we remove the chance for them to be able to transfer out of the illegal activities into legal activities where they could make sustainable long-term differences.
Colombia is making significant advances to ensure it becomes a stable democracy. However, one cannot have a democratic and secure nation without jobs and opportunities. Colombia is working to create opportunities for its people, and the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement will assist in those efforts.
Our businesses can compete with the best in the world. It is certainly time we listened to our Canadian companies and worked to ensure that they maintain their competitiveness in this market and have the chance to pursue new opportunities.
I would also mention the fact that during the polling that has been going on with the presidential elections coming, of all the parties that are running there is only one party that opposes free trade. Let us think about that. There is only one party out of all the parties that are running for re-election and to run the country that actually opposes free trade. Ninety-six per cent of those parties support free trade. That is what the polls show.
We talk about what is not good for Colombia. I think Colombians understand what is important for Colombia. If there was such an opposition to free trade, do members not think that would become an issue during the campaign? Do members think any political party in Colombia would be supporting free trade if they believed this was going to hurt their chances of winning? That bears out in the results of the polls which show that only one party, which actually has less than 4%, opposes free trade.
It is for this reason and the many benefits to our Colombian partners that this agreement brings that I ask all members to support the passage of this free trade agreement.