Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I rise to speak since returning from vacation. Allow me to say hello to you. It is always a pleasure to see you lead our proceedings.
Bill C-13 seeks to implement the agreement on trade facilitation concluded by members of the World Trade Organization. This bill amends a number of Canadian statutes. I sincerely believe it is imperative to scrutinize these changes in committee. For example, major changes are being made to regulations on Canadians' health and safety.
I would like to draw the attention of my colleagues to two clauses in particular. The first is on rejected goods. By accepting Bill C-13, an importing country could hereby return goods that do not comply with its health standards. If the bill were passed, Canada would no longer be required to keep questionable goods indefinitely. Moreover, if it were not possible to identify the shipper, Canada could simply destroy the dangerous goods.
The second clause I want to focus on deals with goods in transit. At present, Canadian regulations prohibit the transit of any goods that do not meet national technical standards. For instance, if a food product is banned by Health Canada, its transit within our borders is simply prohibited.
The bill ends that prohibition. Products could pass through our borders even if they do not meet Canadian regulatory requirements regarding health and environmental protections, since they would not be destined for the Canadian market.
Clearly, specific measures or conditions could be applied to certain statutes under the administration of Health Canada, and of course the NDP wants to ensure that any changes made to the way goods are treated do not compromise the health and safety of Canadian workers, who would be at risk during the transshipments.
Given that I represent a riding where marine transportation plays an important role, I feel it is my duty to ensure that workers who might have to handle those products are not in any way at risk. That is why I would like the committee to call on as many experts as possible in order to highlight any potential consequences of this change. The health of workers must not be compromised in any way.
I will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading, so that we can shed as much light on it as possible and get as many answers as we can to all our questions.
The NDP has always supported good trade measures. How do we distinguish between a good trade measure and a bad one? Once these regulatory changes are raised, we should try to see whether there are any economic benefits to this WTO agreement and whether it will facilitate trade.
For the benefit of those watching, I would like to point out that the NDP's support for any international trade measure depends on the findings of a careful study of, among other things, respect for human rights in the various countries concerned and respect for environmental rights. In fact, respect for environmental rights is becoming increasingly important and should be a major element of every agreement. The protection of workers, which I alluded to, is also one of the elements studied. The last aspect is the strategic interest of the agreement to Canada.
Canada's geography already provides a link to major world economies because we have access to three large oceans, which facilitate international trade.
Accordingly, cutting administrative red tape and streamlining customs procedures can improve the predictability of trade and reduce costs at the border for Canadian exports. This in turn means that SMEs in developing countries could also benefit from streamlined regulations resulting from this agreement.
This looks promising because all partners win. We call this a win-win situation.
Conversely, I will digress briefly and refer to a bad agreement that is being proposed by the government, the TPP. To quickly give you my views on this agreement, I need only quote the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which has proven that the agreement's so-called trade benefits are nothing more than a smokescreen:
It is a vast overstatement to say the TPP grants Canada new access to Pacific Rim countries when 97% of Canadian exports already enter the TPP economies tariff free.
Behind these figures and these words, there are 60,000 jobs that could disappear. In Mauricie alone, dairy, poultry, and egg producers will be the big losers. The Fédération de l'UPA in the Mauricie region estimates that 300 farms will be impacted by the trade implications of the TPP. When I say “impacted”, it is clearly understood that they will be negatively impacted. These policies are detrimental to Quebec producers, local communities, and well-paid jobs generated by the industry.
Pierre Lampron, member and president of the UPA in the Mauricie region, made it very clear who would pay the price of these policies when he said, “At the end of the day, it is our producers who will pay the price, because a pound of cheese produced outside Canada is one pound less produced by local businesses”. He was likely implying that Quebeckers and Canadians can only eat so much cheese.
I hope that the government will listen to reason when it comes to the TPP. After that aside, I will now come back to the benefits that the trade facilitation agreement will bring to our SMEs.
It is true that the implementation of the TFA could reduce the administrative burden on our SMEs. Small and medium-sized businesses spend a lot of money on administration, and reducing those costs could improve their export potential. However, the federal government must do a lot more for SMEs. The government could keep the election promises it made to support SMEs. After promising to lower their taxes from 11% to 9%, the government is depriving SMEs of the tax relief required to invest and create jobs.
In Trois-Rivières, over 2,000 small businesses would have benefited from this measure, but the government prefers to give tax breaks to large corporations that do not put those tax savings back into the Canadian economy.
By abandoning our small businesses, the government is also abandoning the middle class, since, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, one-third of business owners earn less than $33,000 a year, and 41% work more than 50 hours per week. I would remind the House that one has to earn at least $45,000 in order to benefit from the most recent tax cuts.
With this budget, the Liberals are turning their backs on hard-working families just trying to make ends meet, but it is true that small businesses depend largely on international trade. Therefore, in order to ensure the success of small businesses internationally, the government needs to develop a specific support policy taking into consideration the following two facts: first, Canadian small businesses have very little presence in international markets—a measly 10% to 14%—, and second, those that do export their products are still far too exposed to the vagaries of the American economy.
To improve the situation, the government needs to make it easier for small businesses to access funding when they are trying to succeed in international markets. Small businesses often do not have the resources to carry a lot of inventory and keep up with demand.
I see I am running out of time. I would have liked to say so much more. I will probably have a chance to make a few more points as I answer questions, but let me wrap up by saying that following a careful assessment, I can support TFAs as long as they are concluded with strategic partners that respect basic human rights.
I would also remind the House that, while the TFA might be beneficial for small businesses, the government needs to do more. Finally, the TFA's measures can help developing countries, although I did not have time to address this issue and I hope to come back to it.
I will stop there and I look forward to questions from my esteemed colleagues.