Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in support of this bill. I am pleased to speak in support of an agreement that would further cement the positive relations Canada has enjoyed with Ukraine over many years. As an Alberta MP, and in the context of this bill, I would like to take the opportunity to appreciate and highlight the many contributions of the Ukrainian community, especially in Alberta, where we celebrate that community on an annual basis. The contributions of the community to the Alberta economy and the Canadian economy as a whole are very important.
I am very pleased that there is cross-partisan support for this agreement. Trade, especially in countries that have gone through periods of economic crisis or political disruption, is one of the best ways Canada can help them into the next phase of their development.
When we look at what Ukraine has gone through in the last few years, we all have to pause and recognize the significance of the ability of a country like Canada to enter into a free trade agreement with it. Since the election of the new government in Ukraine, under President Poroshenko, in 2004, Ukraine has begun necessary reforms to stimulate economic growth, including taking steps to address corruption and introducing measures to create a more positive business environment.
This agreement is the logical next step in the acceleration and development of Ukraine's economy. I want to note some of the highlights that would support all Canadian businesses. My ask of the government, much as it was when I rose in support of the Canada-EU free trade agreement, is that the government work with our trade commissioners and economic development agencies to put forward a plan on how Canadian businesses can take advantage of this free trade agreement in an expeditious manner.
One of the key provisions I support, and that I know many businesses will as well, is the elimination of tariffs on 86% of Canadian exports, with the balance of tariff concessions to be implemented over a period of up to seven years. This includes the elimination by Ukraine of tariffs on all Canadian exports of industrial products, fish, and seafood and the elimination of the vast majority of Ukraine's agricultural tariffs. Key products benefiting from either immediate or eventual duty-free access include beef, certain pulses, grains, canola oil, processed food, animal feed, frozen fish, caviar, certain articles of iron and steel, industrial machinery, articles of plastics, and cosmetics. This is certainly going to provide a lot of opportunity for Canadian agricultural producers.
My hope is that some of the established mechanisms will allow agricultural producers to innovate to tailor some of their products for new markets. I want to give a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership and the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence as examples. There are a lot of programs, centres of excellence, and services that different governments have invested in over time to help businesses connect with the opportunities presented by new free trade agreements. My hope, in the event this agreement actually passes into law, is that governments will then focus their attention on those business-to-business links.
The agreement also contains a range of disciplines and commitments pertaining to non-tariff measures that will help ensure that market access gains are not constrained by unjustified trade barriers. The agreement also contains commitments related to trade facilitation designed to reduce red tape at the border.
The digital economy component is interesting too. The chapter in this free trade agreement on electronic commerce obliges both Canada and the Ukraine not to levy customs duties or other charges on digital products that are transmitted electronically. This is a very interesting provision, given that it reflects the new reality in trade. It is a good thing for Canada to be on the forefront of these types of trade agreements as they relate to international best practices.
I would like to take a few moments to talk about why I think trade is so important in terms of the political context in Ukraine. I want to acknowledge the hard work of my colleague from the Liberal Party, the member for Etobicoke Centre, who has really been a champion of the rights of Ukraine, in addition to some of the other members of my caucus.
We had a committee study this summer by our immigration committee. I would just like to set the context for why this agreement is so important. When a country is given economic opportunity, it gives people and civil society there the opportunity to grow.
We had representatives from the community testify at our committee. Our report notes the following:
The Committee heard about the situation in Ukraine, a country that has gone from having no internally displaced persons to having 1.8 million over a two-year period as a result of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and ongoing conflict in the Donbas region. According to Aleksandr Galkin, Director, The Right to Protection, the IDPs [internally displaced people] need permanent housing and employment opportunities, and those receiving government pensions need income security. [A representative]...with the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), explained that a return to the rebel-held areas is fraught with danger, where anyone who expressed critical opinions about rebels is at risk; there are documented examples of writers and others appearing on blacklists and being detained, tortured, and disappeared. Witnesses also explained that residents living along or close to the “contact line” have very limited access to humanitarian and medical aid, due to security reasons and a ban on cargo deliveries.
Two witnesses,..Ukrainian-government sympathizers shared their personal stories of capture and arrest, torture of all kinds, and impunity for abuses in the rebel-controlled areas. The Committee also heard from [a witness], apprehended and tortured in Crimea, forced to testify against innocent people and sentenced to forced labour. Both men implored the Committee to remember the people still held in captivity and to fight for their release....
Witness also suggested...maintaining sanctions against Russia, continued or increased support for the OSCE and the OSCE special monitoring mission, continued support as election observers, and help to find a political solution to the conflict. Further, Canada could provide aid to help integrate IDPs, to rebuild institutions such as the media that have been destroyed by the conflict, and to battle corruption. Training to police officers and border guards and support to civil society organizations were also recommended areas for Canada's support.
I wanted to read that excerpt from the committee, because it sets the context for why it is so important for trade agreements like this to be signed with countries like Ukraine. We already have a diaspora community that is very well integrated in Canada. There are a lot of Ukrainian diaspora-led businesses that will see natural trade opportunities under this agreement, but more importantly, this in some way will help to rebuild the economy of Ukraine, as it has gone through exceptionally hard circumstances.
We all have moments in our lives in this place when we pause and reflect on the gravity of our role. For anyone who sat through the committee hearings, the testimony presented by these witnesses was harrowing. It was truly disturbing to know some of the human rights abuses that have happened in Ukraine over the last couple of years.
I really think Canada has a duty beyond trade to stand against the human rights abuses that are happening there and stand against the illegal occupation of Crimea. Certainly trade is one way to do that. It sends a message to the international community that Canada is at the forefront of protecting these rights.
I feel that we have had a lot of support from the diaspora community. I have heard it over and over again as I have travelled across Alberta. This is a really positive sign to the international community that Canada gets it and is standing up for what is right.
With that, I am happy to take questions.