Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-13, a bill the NDP supported at second reading and at committee, because of its potential benefit to Canadian small businesses that export their goods around the world.
Bill C-13 would amend the Food and Drugs Act, the Hazardous Products Act, the Radiation Emitting Devices Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Pest Control Products Act, and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. It is a largely technical bill that is required to bring Canada into compliance with the WTO trade facilitation agreement, or TFA.
The agreement's stated desire is to expedite the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, which is dealt with in the first section of the 24-article document. In this section there are two clauses—8.1 on rejected goods and 11.8 on goods in transit—which require action on Canada's part in order to ratify the agreement. Bill C-13 deals entirely with these two clauses.
The TFA's second section—articles 13 to 22—is entitled, “Special and Differential Treatment Provisions for Developing Country Members and Least-Developed Country Members.” The final two articles in the third section outline a committee structure and deal with final provisions.
The customs practices of developed countries like Canada are already mostly in line with the TFA. For developing countries, this is more of a challenge, which is why a lot of the agreement's provisions focuses on them.
One of the few groups in Canada to have expressed concern about the TFA is the Council of Canadians. According to officials from Global Affairs Canada, it is concerned that the agreement would only benefit large agribusiness firms and not small-scale farmers.
The Council of Canadians chair, Maude Barlow, criticized the agreement back in 2013. She said:
This was not a historic win for developing countries at the WTO. They scrape by with modest and temporary protections for food security policies that should be completely excluded from corporate trade rules....
I understand her concerns and read with concern how India had to defend its food security programs amidst the TFA negotiations.
The WTO is certainly a flawed organization. I am well aware of the many criticisms that are levelled against it.
The Standing Committee on International Trade held a very quick study of Bill C-13. I was disappointed that we did not spend any time discussing the TFA in its broader context or dig into the supposed benefits of the agreement for Canadian traders.
We heard from Global Affairs officials, who answered specific questions about Bill C-13 and the various acts it would amend.
Two groups requested to appear: CropLife Canada, and the Canadian Consumer Speciality Products Association. It was important to hear from them because Bill C-13 has significant implications for them and, specifically, for the pest control industry.
Their first concern related to clause 31 of the bill, which they felt was unnecessary.
Their second concern was about the changes to be made to the definition of a label under the Pest Control Products Act. After some back-and-forth between the groups, the department, and committee members, we agreed to an amended definition that all parties seemed satisfied with.
As I mentioned, it would have been great to delve into the potential benefits of the TFA for Canada.
According to the government, the TFA could benefit Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses by strengthening the predictability of customs and border procedures for exports to developing countries. It could increase the ability of some Canadian SMEs to access emerging markets. However, there are a lot of reasons why more small businesses do not export.
The NDP believes strongly in the importance of supporting Canadian small businesses so they can thrive, grow, and hire. Coincidentally, this is Small Business Week in Canada. It is an opportunity to recognize the valuable contributions made by small businesses to communities across Canada.
My riding of Essex is home to hundreds of small businesses. They include auto parts manufacturers, tool and die makers, construction companies, wineries, retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants, and more. These are the small and independent businesses that help sustain our local economies and create local employment.
However, small businesses face big challenges. I am committed to working with the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and all groups in Essex to help our small businesses tackle these challenges head-on.
No doubt, many of the small businesses in my riding are some of the 12% of Canadian SMEs that export.
When we talk about SMEs and trade, the federal government should seize the opportunity to assist more SMEs to do business outside our borders. Only a fraction of small businesses will export their goods, and most of this trade is with the United States.
I frequently hear from businesses in Essex about problems they experience with getting goods across the border. There are still a lot of challenges when it comes to streamlining practices and providing greater predictability. Their concerns were front of mind as I studied this legislation and the TPP and other trade agreements. I am convinced that we need to do more to support Canadian traders.
As I speak about the TFA and small businesses, I am also speaking about the kind of trade that the NDP does support. As the NDP trade critic, it is my responsibility to look at trade deals with a critical lens and to consider whether they are in the best interests of Canadians, not just our businesses but for current and future generations of Canadians.
The trade minister's favourite talking point these days is about the need for a progressive trade agenda. She has spoken about changing the way trade deals are negotiated so they serve a broader good instead of just corporate greed. What does that mean?
We have seen some of the broad strokes of what progressive trade means to the minister. She has stated that “we also have to now start building into trade agreements real effective labour protections, environmental standards and ensure that that is as much a part of the trade agreement as protections for investors.” What the minister said makes me hopeful for a new way of negotiating trade.
As my friend Lana Payne recently wrote in an op-ed published in The Telegram, “The language is good, but the devil will be in the details....Saying something is progressive doesn’t make it so, but the minister has certainly put herself and her government out there”.
I have been critical of the Liberal government for having a trade agenda that seems pretty identical to that of the Conservatives. For example, many progressive groups in Canada have called for changes to CETA, but the minister has dismissed their concerns and is only focused on twisting the EU's arm into signing the deal.
Canadians are deeply concerned about ISDS and do not feel that revised systems under CETA address their more core concerns with this mechanism.
Canadians are also concerned that the government's recent joint declaration that is supposed to strengthen environmental and labour standards is nothing more than empty promises without any legal backing.
The very same things the minister claims are elements of a progressive trade policy are lacking from her so-called gold standard CETA deal.
Similarly, the TPP is not an average trade agreement. Traditionally, a trade agreement is negotiated between country A and country B, who come to an agreement about reducing trade barriers, such as lowering tariffs.
The NDP has supported some of these agreements in the past because, after careful evaluation, on balance the deals were in Canada's best interests.
We are supporting Bill C-13 today because it would facilitate the trade of goods, which can benefit Canadian small businesses that export abroad.
Trade is a rapidly changing concept in the 21st century. It is not just about the flow of goods anymore. It is about the flow of people and services. It is not just country A and country B sitting down to negotiate anymore. Instead, negotiations are largely driven by corporate interests and big business who are advocating for a set of rules that benefit their interests.
Why big business is included is no mystery. Pharmaceutical companies stand to gain from the extra two years of patented drug costs. This keeps them out of the generic market and ultimately costs Canadians more money. In my riding, like everyone in Canada, people are suffering from the costs of medication and often have to make difficult decisions about their health based on their ability to pay for medication. Even people with a benefit plan are not covered for all medications and are often capped on the amount they can claim. One such story stuck with me from campaigning last year.
In Amherstburg I met a lovely couple and their daughter on a beautiful summer day. They live in a working class neighbourhood with well-kept homes, and theirs was no exception. We started to talk and they told me of their recent struggles with his rare form of mouth cancer, how he had just retired from a good workplace with benefits. They were prepared to enjoy their retirement to the fullest when this diagnosis hit them. He had a good benefit package that included drug costs, but only to a lifetime maximum of $75,000. That sounds like a great deal of money but when one is faced with the diagnosis and treatment plan that he was faced with, the money was already gone. Thankfully, he was responding well to treatment, but it had changed their lives and they were justifiably worried about their ability to afford medication now with no money left in their coverage.
Many of today's so-called trade agreements are about so much more than trade. For example, only six of the TPP's 30 chapters deal with trade in the traditional sense of the term. The other 24 chapters are where we find the controversial aspects of the deal, like a new court system where investors can take democratically elected governments to court if they feel unfairly treated.
Trade agreements have to carve out governments' specific rights to legislate on issues as basic as cigarettes. It is absolutely shocking to me that legislatures have to fight to protect countries' rights to regulate things like cigarettes. In the TPP, a specific carve-out had to be made. At committee, the Canadian Cancer Society warned us that the tobacco industry has a history of abuse, seeking to turn to international trade and investment agreements to overturn bona fide public health, tobacco-control measures that apply equally to domestic and foreign companies.
We are also seeing trade agreements that dictate pharmaceutical rules that largely benefit pharmaceutical companies over the citizens governments are elected to serve. The increased patents on pharmaceuticals in the last two trade deals negotiated by the Harper governments are a deeply concerning and very contentious part of those agreements. Another woman I spoke with had to move in with her son in order to afford her medication. She was so thankful that her son was able to have her there so she could afford her own treatment and not worry about the cost of living alone. She told me that she worked hard but she was not making enough to even be able to take her own medication. These stories are not unique. They repeat, door after door in all of our communities.
We had the Canadian Nurses Association present to us at committee, and Carolyn Pullen told us in no uncertain terms that Canadians are already making difficult choices by skipping doses of medication and skipping days of treatment because they cannot afford their medication, even the generic brands. This does not speak well for us as a country. How are our most vulnerable being treated in our society? This systemic problem will continue to manifest itself in poor health outcomes for us all and in an increase in poverty for those who face the high cost of medication. Canada has the second-highest drug costs in the OECD. We are the only country in the world that has a public health care system that does not include a pharmacare program.
If members are wondering why I have been talking about the cost of medication in Canada, it is because under the provisions in CETA and the TPP, the patents for brand-name pharmaceuticals in Canada would be extended. It should come as no surprise that these extensions would lead to increased costs for all of us. On the one hand, we have people who cannot afford medication and who, along with the NDP, are calling on the government for a pharmacare program in our country. On the other hand, we have a government that is signing trade agreements that would make this current situation worse.
Some might say that increasing the length of patents makes sense because it would encourage the pharmaceutical companies to undertake more research and development in Canada. This is a widely held view. However, history shows us that the opposite has happened. In the late 1980s, pharmaceutical companies came to the federal government requesting a patent extension for these exact reasons. They committed to investing in Canadian R and D to a level of 10% of sales. For many years, there was a steady rise in the percentage being spent, and we eventually peaked at 11%. Then we hit a cliff. Our R and D nosedived to its current level of 4% and has held steady at this level for many years. That promise has not been kept and we have all paid the price for it. Yet here we are with CETA and the TPP giving the pharmaceutical companies another extension, with the only argument for it being that it will result in an increase in R and D. Let us be honest about what this means.
The point I make is that trade agreements like CETA or TPP would not be so controversial if they focused only on trade. Instead, they are omnibus agreements that, frankly, do not receive the study and oversight they deserve. On the other hand, before us today is a pretty straightforward initiative that addresses how countries like Canada can deal with goods at our borders. Although this is a highly technical piece, this is the kind of trade remedy that we in the NDP can support, and we will vote in support of Bill C-13.