Mr. Speaker, I began my first speech on this bill on March 29. It feels strange to spend the next 14 minutes talking about an issue that I discussed so long ago. However, I have done my homework, so I remember clearly what was going on with Bill C-8 on the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement.
I will not repeat what I said when I began talking about this on March 29, but I will summarize. I started by saying that the Bloc Québécois supported this bill in principle. I raised a number of important points, including the fact that Jordan is currently modernizing its government and is relying heavily on international trade to support its economic growth. An agreement with Canada could really help this emerging economy.
Canada has already signed a free trade agreement with Jordan's neighbour, Israel. By signing an international trade agreement with Jordan, Canada would demonstrate a degree of balance in our interests in that part of the world, given the strained political relationship between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, of which all hon. members are aware.
Just today, I was reading that the resumption of talks was very tentative. Let us be positive and optimistic about what is happening there. Our thoughts are with the people who are suffering because of the problems arising from the conflicts in the Middle East.
Such an agreement between Canada and Jordan could send a signal to other Middle Eastern countries that would like to expand their economic relations with the west.
On a more technical note, potential trade would be mainly in the agricultural sector. I also mentioned this in the first part of my speech. As the Bloc Québécois agriculture critic, I carefully examined this aspect. As we know, agriculture is not very well developed in Jordan. It does not represent a threat to our agricultural producers. We checked with the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec. Water is scarce in Jordan, and the climate is arid. That is not where most crops are grown. The same goes for livestock. However, we do import some products from Jordan.
It would probably be more beneficial for us, especially in Quebec, to trade with this country. I joked that we will not sell much pork to Jordan. However, we might have some success with sales of other meats, cash crops and fruits and vegetables.
There are also interesting opportunities for Quebec's pulp and paper industry, which has the largest share of exports to Jordan. According to 2008 statistics, Canada's trade with Jordan totalled $92 million, of which Quebec's share was $35 million, with $25 million in pulp and paper exports. This could be good for my riding, which is home to such companies as Domtar and Cascades. In Quebec especially, this industry needs to find new markets. I hope that will be possible.
In Canada, Quebec is Jordan's largest trade partner. According to the most recent statistics, Quebec's share of Canadian exports to Jordan in 2008 was 45% or $35 million. Canada's total trade with Jordan reached $92 million. This is not a free trade agreement on the scale of the one being negotiated with the European Union or NAFTA. Jordan is a small country; however, a free trade agreement could open the door to some Middle Eastern markets.
I spoke about another point that I want to bring up again. Since we will vote to send this bill to committee, there is a chance that it will make it there. So I would like to talk about natural surface water and ground water, whether in a liquid, gaseous or solid state, which are excluded from the agreement by the enabling statute but not mentioned in the text of the agreement itself. That could be dangerous.
I could compare this to the free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, which is currently under negotiation. For the first time ever, Canada decided to leave the supply management system on the table. With other bilateral agreements, research was done, and Canada always excluded the supply management system from negotiations. That is worrisome, because even if the Conservative government gives us verbal assurances that it will protect the supply management system, the very fact that the system is among the issues on the negotiating table leaves us at the mercy of the European Union's negotiators, who could demand some compromises. I referred to surface and ground water because we would hate to see this resource traded with any country. We have to wonder why it was only included in the implementation bill, when it was not stated in the text of the agreement. That would be something to look into during the study in committee.
Even though we are supposed to study each free trade agreement on its own merits, it is clear that the government has a tendency to drop the multilateral approach, just as it is tempted to do with foreign affairs. The government is negotiating free trade agreements with nearly 30 countries. The WTO agreements and the Doha agreement are not working very well. Multilateral agreements are on hold and there has been no effort on that front whatsoever. Now they are focusing on bilateral agreements.
The Bloc Québécois does not feel that this is the way to go about improving the lot of those countries, particularly the developing ones. Officials in the Department of International Trade, like those in the industry department, have admitted to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that no studies have been conducted to evaluate whether these agreements will be beneficial to our economy. Not that it matters; ever since these bilateral agreements have been introduced, the Liberal and Conservative members feel that the government must move ahead with them, whether an agreement is beneficial or not.
One example of this is the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Only the Bloc Québécois and the NDP spoke out against this free trade agreement, simply on the grounds that Colombia does not respect human rights, environmental rights or labour rights.
In a paternalistic manner, we offer to trade with Colombia and help it make money through the free trade agreement and then say that maybe the country should start considering human rights. I do not think this is the right way to go about it. I think such a country needs to know right away that it is unacceptable to treat its population the way it does, and that, as a penalty, we will not be doing business with them until they rectify the situation.
As I said, both the Liberals and Conservatives believe that the government should pursue these bilateral agreements. At least, that is what has come out of the meetings of the Standing Committee on International Trade. Obviously, the Bloc Québécois voted against the report that was passed by the majority of the House committee.
Even worse, the committee also recommended beginning all kinds of other bilateral negotiations, even though no studies have been done to determine whether these agreements will be beneficial for either Canada or Quebec. The committee even contemplated a free trade agreement with China. I would remind the House that in 2005, Canadian imports of Chinese goods totalled $32 billion and generated a $26 billion trade deficit in Canada, or $1,000 per capita. We definitely do not have the upper hand in our trade with China at this time. When trade with any given country generates five times more imports than exports, the top priority should be to make the terms more balanced, rather than more liberal.
The Bloc Québécois will only support future bilateral free trade agreements if it believes they will benefit Quebec's economy.
Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois insists that new free trade agreements must contain clauses requiring that minimum standards on human rights—as I mentioned earlier—labour rights and respect for the environment be met.
As I was saying, in order for trade to be mutually beneficial, it must first be fair. The absence of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, especially our traditional industries. Earlier we were talking about pulp and paper and agriculture. Those are part of that reality. It is very difficult for them to compete with products that are made with no regard for basic social rights.
We have been talking about this for quite some time. Before I was even elected to this House, when I was working for my colleague from Joliette who was the international trade critic, the Bloc Québécois had made many presentations and organized many meetings with citizens in civil society regarding this globalization and how we wanted it to have a human face. That is the terminology used at the time. Here we are in 2010, still referring to something we were talking about in the early 2000s.
The absence of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, as I was saying, our traditional industries in particular. The Bloc Québécois believes that child labour, forced labour and the denial of the fundamental rights of workers is a form of unfair competition, just like export subsidies and dumping.
These examples are often cited in committee, in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for example, in relation to strong economic powers such as the European Union and the United States, which heavily subsidize their farm productions. An example that springs to mind is the cotton market in certain African countries that has been completely destroyed because the U.S. subsidizes its own cotton so much that African countries no longer produce any cotton, although they can grow it easily, because the market has simply been killed off. We see these examples.
Here in Canada we were victims of dumping in the corn market when the United States simply decided to lower the price of corn and subsidize it heavily. It is this type of example that strikes us. And, obviously, there are other examples where civil rights are not respected in certain emerging countries.
Trade agreements and trade laws do not protect our businesses and our workers from this social dumping. If a country wants to benefit from free trade, in return it has to accept a certain number of basic rules, with regard to civil and social rights in particular. Colombia is a good example.
I am being signalled that my time is running out. I will wrap up by saying that the Bloc Québécois is urging the federal government to revise its positions in trade negotiations in order to ensure that trade agreements include clauses ensuring compliance with international labour standards as well as respect for human rights and the environment. In their current form, side agreements on minimum labour standards and environmental protection lack a binding mechanism that would make them truly effective.
Let us move toward multilateral agreements, which is not to say that we would not be in favour of some bilateral agreements in certain cases, as with Jordan of course. We are in favour of sending this bill to committee.