Mr. Speaker, the motion before the House calls for the government to send a strong signal to Canadian businesses and Canada's closest allies that it supports international commerce. The economic well-being of Canada's middle class has to be assured through a full suite of programming, none of which can be effectively designed and delivered without due consideration of Canada's long-standing reality as an economy that has benefited through international trade.
We have made this clear in our platform, in the Speech from the Throne and the budget speech, and most explicitly in the mandate letter the Prime Minister sent to the Minister of International Trade. The mandate letter, for the first time ever, was made public. What clearer signal could we ask for than this instruction, which I quote in full:
As Minister of International Trade, your overarching goal will be to increase Canada’s trade and attract job-creating investment to Canada, focusing on expanding trade with large fast-growing markets, including China and India, and deepening our trade links with traditional partners.
The mandate letter tasks the minister with developing a new trade investment strategy covering, among other matters, strengthening our investment attraction capacity, helping Canadian businesses take advantage of our free trade agreements, promoting trade and investment with emerging markets, and directly helping exporters and communities seeking international investment. It is important to conclude free trade agreements, but it is also important to ensure that our businesses are ready to take advantage of them.
As many of my colleagues mentioned earlier, Canada is a trading nation. Our government recognizes that Canada is part of several important free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, but we are also negotiating several other bilateral and regional free trade agreements. These free trade agreements generally follow a format based on WTO principles and common structures. General objectives are found in the preamble and the initial provisions, while the substantive rules are then set out in distinct chapters.
The scope of Canada's free trade agreements is varied. For example, some agreements only cover the goods trade, such as that with Jordan. However, most are more comprehensive, covering all aspects of trade, such as the NAFTA. These agreements address trade in goods and rules of origin, which are the rules that determine whether a particular product can benefit from the tariff reduction. Other parts cover investment, government procurement, trade in services, regulatory matters, electronic commerce, dispute settlement, and a variety of other topics covering key aspects of trade.
Since the NAFTA came into force in 1994, Canada has also included environmental provisions in our free trade agreements. These rules include commitments to parties to maintain high levels of environmental protection; to enforce domestic environmental laws and not to relax or derogate from such laws to encourage trade or investment; to ensure access to domestic procedures and remedies for violations of environmental laws; and to promote public participation and transparency. Similarly, Canada includes labour provisions in trade agreements, which seek to ensure that all parties respect internationally recognized core labour rights and principles.
More than 70% of total Canadian merchandise trade is covered by these existing agreements. Negotiated agreements that are not yet in force could cover 85%.
CETA's rapid implementation is also a core priority for our government. Canada has also recently modernized our free trade agreements with Chile and Israel, and the timely implementation of these is also a priority for our Minister of International Trade. In addition, the government is exploring ways we can expand our commercial relations with China and India. Regarding the TPP, as members know, the government is engaged in a full and open consultation, including in Parliament.
Let me talk a bit more on the TPP.
I am on the international trade committee. Our committee decided on February 4 to study the TPP and hold a national public consultation, as we committed to during our election campaign. So far we have heard from various stakeholders, including from the auto industry, unions, business leaders, and many academics.
The committee travelled to Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg in April. It is conducting more hearings this week in Quebec City, Montreal, and Toronto. As we speak, the committee is in Windsor to hear the views of Canadians on the TPP, and more consultations need to be done. The committee will have more hearings in Ottawa and must travel to other regions, including Atlantic Canada, to ensure that all views of Canadians are heard from different regions and backgrounds.
We will not cut short our consultations. The previous government did not negotiate the TPP in a transparent way and failed at consulting with Canadians. We are fixing that. The previous government did not only fail at consulting Canadians on this major deal, but it failed at engaging constructively with our biggest trading partner on several trade issues.
When we assumed office, the damage the previous government had inflicted on Canada's standing in the world was glaring. It failed to promote Canada's interest abroad, especially with the United States. The prime example of this damage was the country of origin labelling, COOL. For many years our beef and pork farmers and exporters suffered from this unfair provision. In only eight weeks in office, the new Minister of International Trade was able to resolve that issue.
However, it does not end there. Examples of mismanaging our relations with our most important trading partners includes the former prime minister cancelling the three amigos summit and Keystone XL.
Let me come back to what our government is doing to ensure that our businesses can export and repair the damages from the previous government.
As I said at the beginning, ensuring that Canadian businesses can take advantage of these free trade agreements is key. The Minister of International Trade is developing a new export strategy, and there are many public signals to our business community and to our economic partners and allies that demonstrate our commitment to international commerce is strong in unequivocal terms.
Let me start with the messages to partners and allies. Within weeks of assuming office, the minister was reminding the 162 members of the World Trade Organization that we needed an ambitious agreement and to get it we needed to build a domestic political consensus and a global political consensus around the absolute importance of further trade liberalization.
The minister has also met with many counterparts from from our closest allies, including U.S. Trade Representative Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Malmström. Like her, they recognize that the globalized economy creates stresses as well as opportunities. Like her, they embraced the chance to leverage global business to grow domestic jobs and growth. Like her, they know how important and how difficult it is to seek a domestic political consensus.
To get there, Canadians, like their competitors and collaborators abroad, have to see the benefits of international trade beyond the benefits they see as consumers of a wider variety of products. All orders of government are actively promoting these.
Although we compete vigorously with many countries, the realities of the global value chains means that we are also finding more and more ways of growing together, not at the expense of our trading partners.
Let me briefly speak to what is already on the table, without prejudice to what may be developed. In the process of elaborating a new trade and investment strategy, first, Canada has a good toolkit. We have a framework of trade and investment agreements that constitute a sound basis for stable, predictable, international business.
The government has built vigorously upon that basis, notably through the progressive provisions on investor-state dispute settlement that it negotiated into CETA, provisions that we believe will allow this extremely important agreement to be ratified and implemented.
Second, opening doors is only part of the story. Our businesses often need help getting through those doors. For that, we have the government's trade commissioner service, present in over 160 points of service around the world. They are an unbeatable resource for reducing the knowledge risks around commerce, finding business leads and investors, advising on business cultures, warning about pitfalls, troubleshooting problems, running technology accelerators, etc.
Third, we have specific programs to help attract investment, to support business associations as they help their members internationally, and to financially assist early-stage international business development. On the latter, the Minister of International Trade launched the Canexport program in January. It will be an important part of the government's export approach.
It aims to help Canadian small and medium-sized companies to take advantage of opportunities abroad, such as those arising from new trade agreements, like CETA, as a result increasing their competitiveness while creating jobs and growth at home.
I am pleased to report that Canexport has received strong interest from our small and medium-sized enterprise community. Since its launch, Global Affairs Canada has approved contributions to support more than 200 SMEs-led export development projects worth over $6.4 million.
Funding is available to those companies on a cost-sharing basis, and we are asking recipients, as part of the agreement, to demonstrate how the program has led directly to their sales.
One-quarter of the projects approved so far are targeting the CETA markets, showing the importance of and level of interest in this group of countries for Canada's small and medium-sized exporters.
Finally, this is a whole-of-government effort. Every department and agency, every provincial, territorial, and municipal government is operating in the same global economic reality. All seek to leverage the potential of international commerce, to build sustainable and inclusive growth for the middle class and those working hard to join it.
The strong support of the government for international commerce can be in no doubt.