Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate today. The pleasure will be to try to educate, either in my comments or in answer to the questions afterward, members across the way who obviously do not know the facts about what is going on in agriculture today.
I have read the motion and have commented earlier today. I say to members opposite that in one way I agree with what they are saying in their motion. The agri-food industry is going through some of the most significant changes in 30 years. However, as I said before, those changes are positive. They are challenges. They are offering things to the industry that were never offered to that extent before.
It is not inertia; it is just the contrary. A tremendous amount of activity is going on. As we go through life there are challenges. We have to prepare ourselves to meet challenges head on, to manage those challenges that come before us. This is a time of opportunity; this is a time of vision.
The government should be commended. I respect and agree with some members opposite who have spoken today about some of the good things the government has been doing in their view. We have only been here for six months. We had to take the hand that was dealt us, as the finance minister said earlier this morning, in the agri-food industry as well as in many other sectors and try to make the best of it.
We are well into the process of taking stock of what is going on. We are consulting constantly with the players, all the stakeholders. I remind members of the House and anyone who might be watching today about the size of the agri-food sector in Canada. There are 225,000 farms in Canada, plus or minus, depending on the definition of a farm. There are about 425,000 or 430,000 people working on farms.
I remind the House of the title of the department. It is the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The agri-food system in Canada employs over 1.5 million Canadians or about 15 per cent of the Canadian working population.
When we look at its value, the $10.5 billion in input costs of primary producers or farmers each year to start the system evolve into about $13.5 billion in exports of either bulk or processed agri-food products. In addition Canadians spend at the purchasing or retail level. This does not include the cost of a restaurant meal but the cost of the food that the restaurant operator will buy. That $10.5 billion of input that primary producers make each year multiplies to over a $70 billion agri-food industry in Canada. In terms sometimes used in agriculture, that is no small potatoes. That is a big industry.
I have been involved in the agri-food industry all of my life. At no time have I seen a coming together of the players in the agri-food industry like we in this government have been able to make happen in the short time we have been here.
We are bringing this with a tremendous amount of co-operation, and a tremendous amount of reflection around the situations that are there today. They are coming around the table. They are sitting down together to talk about how we in the industry, everybody, all the stakeholders, can collectively do what needs to be done so that we are all successful as we go down the road.
I wanted to make those comments. As well, I want to congratulate those in the agri-food sector for the way they are meeting these challenges. As has been outlined by some other speakers today, it is not easy. It is not easy in any sector in today's economy.
It is not easy in the agri-food sector as well, whether one is out there today seeding, whether one is out there with one's livestock or whether one is further along as a further processor or wholesaler or retailer or whatever.
It is not easy but they are meeting those challenges. That is because that industry is made up of people who are very capable, highly educated, very well trained in the use and management of technology and use and management in general, in marketing, et cetera.
I praise them and congratulate them. We look forward in the ministry and in this government to continuing to work with those people to meet those challenges. I want to also remind everyone today we in government realize that we are an exporting nation. Agriculture for every dollar, that is farm gate dollar we talk about, about 46 to 50 cents of that in the end is derived from export.
It is important that as a government we have taken the initiatives we have concerning the trade opportunities out there for us. We know this government was involved in the GATT deal in the last seven weeks of what turned out to be a seven year round of negotiations which was supposed to be completed in four.
We also found that maybe the previous government had not been forthright with the industry in telling it about 24 months before we got there as a straightforward and straight shooting government that many of the supporters for supply management had long left the table. The previous government had not explained that as forthrightly as it could have to Canadians and to the industry.
We had a choice. We made the responsible choice. We could have walked away from the table and let the rest of the world shape the destiny of the Canadian dairy, egg and poultry industry, but that was not the responsible way to go. We took the choice of sitting down and making the best deal we possibly could.
We made a deal. Yes, it is tariffication. There is no deal, whether it is a GATT deal or whether it is a contract to do something else, with which everybody walks away from the table happier. Yes, we would like to have had an article XI that was there and firm, but I issue this challenge to everyone: If we had got that strengthened and clarified article XI, whatever that might have been, I would also think we would have to be honest enough to say that it too probably would have been challenged down the road.
As we go about in the world today, we know the advantages of freer trade in the world. We have been successful in putting in tremendous amounts of protection for the dairy, egg and poultry industry that still and by the year 2001 will have tariff levels at 85 per cent of where they are at the present time.
That is only a reduction of 2.5 per cent per year for the six years after the GATT deal is implemented, be that January 1, 1995 or July 1, 1995. That decision has not yet been made.
Nowhere did we work as diligently than on that trade issue. Without question we got the best deal we possibly could for Canadian producers because as I said before fundamentally we are a trading nation. On those negotiations and even now on the negotiations on some bilateral issues with the United States we have put forward our position very vigorously.
In the bilaterals with the United States that include wheat and a few other products there will be-and we promise this to the Canadian producers and to Canada totally-no deal unless it is a good deal for Canada. That means a good deal for the grain sector, a good deal for the processing sectors and for the supply managed sectors.
We will not trade off one sector against another as some people think we should. We say we will not because we should not. There is no reason. We are negotiating and talking about different issues at the table, but we are not talking about them interconnecting with each other.
We have been steadfast and strong on our position. This is emphasized by the fact that these bilaterals have been going on now for many months. There have been three face to face meetings and many meetings with officials in conversations over the telephone by the ministers, the minister with the secretary of state for agriculture in the United States, and we have stood firm and we will continue to stand firm on those.
With the trade agreements that we have, especially with the GATT agreement, we now have a set of trade rules that all countries will have to abide by. We have the World Trade Organization that we can go back to, any country can go back to if it thinks it is being mistreated or mishandled or accused of something by another country. One must never be so naive as to think that challenges will not continue to arise.
When we think someone is not treating Canada properly we will use the measures available to us to challenge that and to question that. We also have to recognize that the reverse may very well be true.
As the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell just outlined, in the durum wheat issue with the United States the score is four to zero. As we speak today the International Trade Commission in the United States is having another hearing on that and we are confident it will be five to zero when this is over.
What we are doing here in Canada is playing fair. We are following the rules. We have been playing fair. We continue to play fair and we will continue to win as we play with those fair trade rules.
We recognize as well that we just cannot focus. It is very important because if the primary producer is not economically viable its chain is not going to pull. If the processor is not economically viable, if the further processor, the wholesaler and the retailer are not economically viable, we recognize that the chain will not pull. We know full well that in all those different stakeholder areas in the sector the efficient producer, the efficient operator, must be economically viable for the sector to be successful.
In light of that, if I could refer to the supply managed sector, the opposition today is saying there is inertia, inaction. That is far from the case. The minister of agriculture has given me the opportunity to lead a task force in that industry. Some of the opposition members are saying today that the stakeholders are not involved which is far from the case.
In the supply managed sectors we have put in place five commodity committees made up of primary producers, processors, grocery products manufacturers, further processors, all of the stakeholders. We first put together the list of the issues and the process is in place to deal with them. Now those people who work in that industry every day, not bureaucrats, are sitting down together and deciding how we can best take advantage of the opportunities that are now before us under the new rules of GATT and under the new trade rules we have.
I do not know what more could be asked than to have that type of participation.
We have made great strides as well in meeting the challenge the ministers have put forward, provincial and federal. As far as knocking down interprovincial trade barriers, we know that is a tremendous challenge. It is just like everything else. Too often people agree with it in principle and then when it comes time to do something the walls start going up. We have to knock those walls down.
We have to meet the challenge and we are forging ahead in many different areas to meet the challenges as far as $20 billion of export trade by the year 2000. The industry collectively with federal and provincial governments says we can do that and is welcoming the challenge.
As far as the inertia some people talk about, obviously they do not know and should become more aware of what is going on in this government. They need to do a little more reading. They need to follow a little closer.
I have talked about supply management. I have talked about the bilateral discussions with the United States. I announced a few minutes ago in the House, and I will comment on it again, that some of us have been talking with the minister in China this morning. We fully realize, could I say, the confusion and the problems and the challenges in the western grain movement at the present time.
The minister will be officially announcing tomorrow that he will be bringing together as soon as he possible can on his return from Asia a small group of key players in the western grain sector. They will put their heads together around the table and see what they can do to fix those problems out there and will then go on from there to look at all of the issues out there in the western grain industry, the Canadian grain industry. It is not just a western problem. It has come to a head in the western area right now, but it is a problem right across the country which we recognize.
We have made some changes already according to our platform. We have announced some changes in the Farm Credit Corporation. We have probably made more strides with pesticide regulation and the registration process in the last 60 days than the previous government did between the time it tabled that study in December 1990 until fortunately it was replaced here in Ottawa with the present government.
As well, we have placed some extra people in trade office positions around the world, namely in Mexico, Japan and Taiwan, and they are giving us good results. We have established a new branch in the department called the market and industry branch to work with producers, producers groups, processors and the industry as we go about the world with the new opportunities and challenges to market further processed products.
We have been fairly successful, but not as successful as we might like to have been in Canada in the past by selling bulk products. The way we have to go now to create the jobs and to take advantage of value added is to value add and further process those here.
The minister, as we know, is spending a number of days in Korea, Hong Kong and China not only talking about grain but about beef, dairy and pork, reaffirming the connections and the strategic alliances we have there. We know, and this is straight from the World Bank, that it is saying between now and the year 2000, 50 per cent of the increase in world trade, including agricultural trade, will take place in that part of the world.
That is not very long, between 1995 and the year 2000, 50 per cent of the increase. That is because 50 per cent of the increase in the wealth in the world is going to take place in that area and we need to be there. We are working with everybody in the industry in order to collectively take advantage of that.
One of the goals and the platforms this government ran on last fall which we will fulfil is the agri-food industry. We want to ensure financial security. We want to ensure food safety for Canadians. We want to reassure Canadians that we will maintain and improve the sustainability of the resources that mean so much to all of us. We will do that by having adaptation and development programs and consultation processes with everybody in the industry. We will promote that growth through market responsiveness and value added initiatives. I am proud to say that we will do that while at the same time maintaining fiscal responsibility.
I am going to close with one comment that I always like to close with and remind people of. Yes, we have a lot of important sectors in the Canadian economy. Maybe it is because I was born and brought up on a farm and maybe it is because after my family my first love is the agri-food industry, but I want to remind everybody in Canada and remind this House-and we, the minister and the department are fully aware of that-as goes agriculture so goes the economy of any country.
We are going to make sure, with the co-operation of everybody, that agriculture goes well and therefore the economy of this country will go well as a result of that.