Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this take note debate and for the opportunity to talk about Canada's participation at the upcoming fourth World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar and, in particular, the agricultural trade objectives Canada will be setting out to achieve.
Trade has been and continues to be vitally important to the Canadian agriculture and agri-food industry. In fact trade accounts for one half of all farm sales. The Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector operates in a global context and depends heavily on exports for its growth and development. Last year alone Canada exported close to $23.5 billion in agriculture and agrifood products.
Since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the WTO Uruguay round and bilateral free trade agreements with Chile, Costa Rica and Israel, Canadian agriculture and agrifood exports have been expanding considerably over the past 10 years.
As the global economy becomes even more integrated, the importance of a multilaterally agreed and enforceable framework governing Canada's international trade of agricultural products becomes increasingly more apparent. As a mid-sized country with significant agricultural export interests, Canada has much to gain from further trade reform being undertaken through the WTO within a rules based system with binding dispute resolution.
In recognition of this fact the government, in consultation with Canadian agriculture and agrifood stakeholders, has been working diligently over the past two years to pursue its objectives. Since March 2000, when the current WTO round of agriculture negotiations began in Geneva, Canada has been pursuing the interests of the Canadian agriculture and agrifood industry as expressed in its initial negotiating position announced by the government back in August 1999.
That position sets out Canada's objectives to eliminate export subsidies, to reduce as much as possible or eliminate trade distorting domestic support and improve market access for all agriculture and food products. Essentially, our goal is to level the playing field to allow Canadian farmers and processors to compete successfully on an equal footing with their competitors as they have consistently proven they are more than capable of doing.
Furthermore the federal government will also ensure that decisions about the production and marketing of Canadian products will continue to be made in Canada. Excessive support levels distort production, they drive down world prices that are already low and as a result hurt farmers, farmers in Canada and in a majority of the other agricultural producing countries, in particular developing countries, that export agricultural products.
To advance the goal of levelling the international playing field, Canada has and will continue to reach out to developing country members in the WTO who share this view.
Canada has had great successes in advancing the common goal through participation in the Cairns group which is made up largely of agriculture exporting developing countries. We will continue to build upon our common interests with other members to achieve a fair and market oriented agricultural trading system.
Although global agricultural trade has been more market oriented over the past 10 years, especially since the conclusion of the WTO Uruguay round negotiations, there continues to be an urgent need for further trade liberalization. We need to continue to make markets work better by dismantling barriers to trade and significantly reducing trade distorting subsidies.
While Canadian farmers can compete head to head with anyone in the world as long as it is on an equal footing, they cannot compete with the treasuries of some of the foreign countries. There is clearly work that remains to be done.
While we are pleased with the progress being made in the current agriculture negotiations, we feel strongly that this progress cannot be lost. We view the increased focus and momentum that the launch of a broader set of multilateral trade negotiations would bring to the agriculture negotiators as being extremely beneficial to the interests of Canada.
Canada believes that the launch of expanded negotiations in Doha would significantly increase the odds of achieving a substantial and far reaching outcome in the agriculture negotiations, an outcome that would take us a long way toward further opening agriculture markets and eliminating distortions in the world trade of agricultural exports. A successful launch of a broader round of negotiations at the fourth WTO ministerial conference would indicate that other WTO members are also serious about agricultural trade reform.
In this context, the launch of a broader set of WTO negotiations in Doha is a clear objective from agricultural and wider perspectives. Agricultural trade reform is a key priority for all Canadians. We consider it extremely important that WTO members make real and meaningful progress toward achieving a fair and market oriented agricultural trading sector. We clearly want to see substantive results in the areas of market access, domestic support and export competition.
As a result, Canada does not view the launch of a broader round as entirely sufficient for meeting our agriculture policy objectives. That is why Canada is also seeking a strong and clear statement at Doha on the need to make real and far-reaching progress in liberalizing agricultural trade.
Further, Canada will also be pursuing the establishment, on the part of the WTO ministers, of clear and realistic timelines and a framework for conducting the agriculture negotiations and bringing them to a conclusion as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Canada is committed to seeking a successful conclusion to the WTO agriculture negotiations to continue the liberalization of global agricultural trade, which in turn would provide Canadian producers and processors with a more level international playing field and would extend a rules based, predictable and secure trading environment.
Seeking a successful conclusion will mean that Canada's participation in negotiations will continue to benefit from the valuable input of all Canadians. The federal government remains fully committed to keeping agriculture and agrifood stakeholders fully informed. We will continue to consult closely with Canadians as the WTO agriculture negotiations progress.