Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise concerning the most important challenge our producers are faced with. I thank the mover of the motion, who submitted this issue to the House. However, I cannot agree with the first part of this motion, because the money was there, but it was a new stabilization program. Provinces and territories as well as the people who deliver the program have had to adjust and that delayed the payments and affected the aid that was directed to the farming industry.
There is no question that the situation has been disastrous for the beef and ruminant animals producers in Canada. The figures recently received from Statistics Canada on revenue show that, in 2003, the net farm income dropped to its lowest. This situation is mainly attributable to a reduction in sales that followed the discovery of a single case of BSE.
This problem affects all Canadians, whether they live in a rural area, whether farming has always been part of their living or whether they live in an urban setting. All these people live in a country that produces food ranked among the best in the world.
However, BSE affects our producers first and foremost.
The government has not stood idly by. It has not left the producers to bear the entire burden of the situation that has existed since the case of BSE was discovered. The government has listened, responded and acted.
In response to this unprecedented challenge to this key sector of our economy, the federal government is working with the provinces and territories to help the producers cope with the pressures in the short term, while laying the foundations of a viable, profitable sector in the years to come.
I want to emphasize that the government has reacted vigorously and has kept its commitment to support the producers in these difficult times.
Last year, a record $4.8 billion was paid out through government programs. During the first nine months of this year, farmers have received more than $3.1 billion from the government.
In response to the BSE crisis, governments have invested at least $2.5 billion to help cattle and ruminant producers get through these difficult times.
In March, the Prime Minister announced $995 million in federal aid for 2004, mainly through the Transitional Industry Support Program. To date the producers have received some $821 million under this program.
On September 10, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced an additional $488 million to facilitate the increase in the domestic slaughter capacity. He had recognized the importance of acting in the medium and long terms to diversify slaughtering, help the producers cope with cash flow and liquidity problems, and expand access to beef export markets.
The minister also announced special cash advances for ruminant producers in 2004 through the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program.
With these new special advances, breeding cow and ruminant producers can obtain funds from the program quickly and easily. Under the program, eligible beef and ruminant producers receive up to $100 a head.
The government is determined to put this money in the hands of producers as soon as possible and I am pleased to announce that it has already started.
So far more than 10,300 producers have applied for a special advance. Applications are being processed. In total, more than $45.5 million in special advances have been granted to more than 7,000 producers.
I would also point out that the federal government has invested in business risk management, which includes CAIS and crop insurance. To help Canada's producers, including cattle farmers, to manage risk and deal with a drop in income, the federal government has allocated $5.5 billion over five years to business risk management.
It is important to mention that we no longer have an annual cap on the money set aside for business risk management. In fact, funding is subject to demand and varies according to the needs of producers.
For the 2003 program year, close to $355 million in interim or final payments were disbursed under CAIS. For the 2004 program year, over $105 million has already been paid out to producers.
CAIS is working well for cattle producers. According to our analysis, close to three quarters of cattle farmers who took part in CAIS in 2003 received payments.
I would like to remind the House of the steps the Government of Canada has taken to restore our reputation as exporters of top quality beef products.
We are making great strides at the international level, especially in Asia. Very few people realize that Japan, Korea and Taiwan were the third, fourth and fifth main export markets for our beef and beef products before the discovery of one case of BSE in Canada in May 2003.
Were are very pleased that Hong Kong agreed the day before yesterday to immediately reopen its border to Canadian beef.
This welcome news for Canadian beef producers was announced yesterday. Hong Kong will resume the importation of boneless meat from Canadian cattle under 30 months of age. Hong Kong inspectors are happy with the steps the Canadian government has taken to make sure beef products are safe.
This news comes in the aftermath of a recent visit by the Canadian agriculture and agri-food minister to Hong Kong where he energetically represented Canadian interests. Since the start of this crisis, he has been tireless in his advocacy of Canadian interests and the search for solutions. He deserves our congratulations.
At his invitation, a delegation of technical experts from Hong Kong will visit Canada to observe the security measures we have taken. We are making inroads in Japan as well. The Canada-Japan working group on BSE had its second meeting. Tokyo officials at this meeting confirmed their commitment to go on with technical discussions and the sharing of information in order to resume trade in beef and beef products with Canada.
More important, Japan again confirmed that, when a final decision is made on the resumption of the beef trade with the United States, the same conditions will apply to Canada. Technical consultations between Japan and Canada are ongoing. Canada offered to host the third meeting of the BSE working group.
The work done with Taiwan also reflect the efforts of the government to resume the Canadian beef trade, and increase its volume. We have made another big step in anticipation of the reopening of the border with the big Asian market.
Taiwan has confirmed its intention to allow, with certain conditions, access to its market for Canadian boneless beef products. It has undertaken to send a technical team to observe the measures taken by Canada to ensure food safety and animal health.
We have worked diligently with our Asian trade partners, but we have also made progress with other countries. Our experience with Mexico has turned out to be quite positive. That country has shown itself quite open to the idea of reopening its market to a wide range of ruminant products. As a matter of fact, Mexico has expressed its interest in accepting Canadian breeding cattle. We are very happy about that.
This being said, though, we are concerned by the fact that the United States is considering lowering the BSE risk rating for Mexico, should it decide to authorize Canadian live beef imports. In fact, Canada and Mexico have voiced their disagreement with the policies of the U.S. government, which prohibit the movement of certain bovine products on its territory. In effect, those policies prevent Mexico from authorizing breeding cattle imports from Canada.
Although the United States has not changed position, there was some progress at a recent meeting between our respective representatives. We are still working very hard to have the U.S. border reopened to Canadian beef and beef products. Last month a major step was taken towards the normalization of our trade with the United States.
On November 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forwarded a proposed rule on BSE to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval. It is the last step in the U.S. review of regulations. The review may take up to 90 days, but the process can be expedited. Once the review is completed, the rule is published in the U.S. federal register and it can come into effect after a 60-day period. The president of the United States told us that he would try to speed up the process.
We are making progress both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. The government has shown commitment and dynamism. We have made numerous representations in a number of markets. We sent eight missions to Asia. Our efforts are paying off for the Canadian beef industry. On top of the progress I just mentioned, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Israel, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Saudi Arabia have all partly opened their market to Canadian beef.
Macao's market is fully open. Other countries such as Chile, Russia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates have reopened their markets to beef embryos or semen, or both.
We will keep on doing everything we can across the world to help the Canadian beef industry regain its major share of the market, as it should.
Also, we will keep on working very hard with our provincial and territorial partners as well as farmers to find solutions to this crisis.