Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to an issue of grave concern and even business survival for many Canadians, but also one that affects all of us in every part of this country. I include my own riding of Newmarket--Aurora where there are few beef producers but many beef consumers.
The use of the term BSE in referring to one very specific disease does not capture the full impact and range of this crisis. This is a collapse in the trading system with our largest trading partner. It has caused great hardship for cattlemen and farmers in the first place, but also many others who make a living serving this proud and important industry. The meat processors, the truckers who move cattle, and the customs brokers are examples.
We cannot forget that the ranchers and the farmers are traders and exporters too. The impact on their livelihoods has been devastating. In one year alone since the Canada-U.S. border was slammed shut to Canadian cattle, beef and ruminants in May 2003, the industry has lost over $2 billion and the losses mount.
In the heartland of the cattle industry, Alberta, the figures are stark. Here the United States is the market for every single head of non-purebred cattle. Revenues fell immediately by 36% with the border closure. On average, 1,000 head of Alberta non-purebred cattle crossed the border each and every day before May 20, 2003, but that stopped overnight.
We know what is at stake, but what is the problem behind the closure of the border? There are various aspects.
In Canada we speak often and loosely of American protectionism. There are clearly protectionist pressures in the United States, most evident in parts of the Congress. Trade is a very politicized issue south of the border especially in an election year, but the United States as a country is not protectionist. There are other strong voices in support of free trade and the administration itself is not protectionist by policy.
To make progress on the border, we need to understand the complex politics of trade in the United States and be more careful about how we define the problem.
Ironically, one judge in one state, Montana, set in train the fiasco we have before us today. The threat is always there of renewed litigation by a small industry lobby group which is protectionist to the extreme. The strategy for reopening the border over the longer term must take into account this reality and include a legal dimension.
The cattle and beef industry is one of the most integrated sectors across the border. A head of cattle can move back and forth across the border several times in its lifetime in different phases of the supply chain. This is why the Canadian cattlemen and farmers have so many allies among their associates and friends south of the border, which makes the border closure so galling for them.
Business in general has been moving steadily toward greater cross-border integration regardless of what government does. The BSE crisis is defining the need for governments to catch up to business in terms of policy and regulation. I believe that this is one of the emerging challenges of the trade relationship.
The U.S. dimension of this crisis is even more important than the huge volume of lost trade might suggest. The country can spend money on developing new world markets and should in a smart, targeted way, but we must know that many of these markets will not open to our production while the United States remains closed, so there is a multiplier effect in the damage.
We need to convince the U.S. government to inoculate the cattle and beef industry from the ravages of rogue use of the ports to circumvent trade policy. Where is the government's strategy on doing this? We probably need a new and open-eyed look at the dispute settlement laws and mechanisms. Canada has suppressed this process. The Americans are preoccupied elsewhere and unlikely to show leadership in any aspect of the bilateral trading relationship, but history has shown that they will listen when presented with plans that also serve to advance their interests.
The border is held hostage to political will. The U.S. administration needs to know that it will have the political cover to confront legal challenges to free trade.
Our government must contribute by helping to build political constituencies in the United States in support of our cattlemen and farmers. It needs to take the lead in coordinating with the provinces to use local and regional cross-border groupings to consolidate support. It needs to assure Canadians that no stone is left unturned in building support throughout the U.S. economy and society.
The Minister for International Trade and his colleagues should be in the United States, in the states where most support exists for free cattle trade, building alliances to allow Washington to better confront the political pressures of protectionism.
In the interest of openness, the government should publish a record of its interventions with American authorities at all levels to show ranchers and farmers, truck drivers and all Canadians just how active they are in pressing for a solution.
I appreciated the opportunity to speak to this important national trade issue this evening.