Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to say that the Liberal Party was voted into government. That is where we get our strength to do what we are doing and also get back to being a little more positive.
I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak to the motion on small business. My riding of Vancouver East contains many small businesses. Our proximity to the Asia-Pacific region makes us major players in negotiations with Asia and South America.
Team Canada's trip to the Orient led by the Right Hon. Prime Minister generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. Small businesses do not have the resources required to negotiate directly with China but, with governmental assistance, they can create many jobs for Canada, as they have done for several years.
Last May, I had the privilege of participating in a trade mission to Beijing together with over 100 small and medium-sized business owners. I learned a lot during this trip; I realized in particular that small and medium sized businesses cannot operate alone. They need help. Canada has much to offer to the world in terms of skills and resources, but we must sell our potential. Trips to foreign countries are extremely important to ensure our country's well-being and to let the world know all that Canada has to offer, including solid, honest and capable business people. In short, we must learn to become more aggressive.
Canada is a trading nation. The challenge is to transfer Canada from a nation dependent on trade into a true trading nation with a much larger role being played by small business.
Having said that, I would like to discuss the export sector of our country. Facing global competition has become the sine qua non of any serious business plan. The best way to find out if your company is truly competitive is to tackle the export challenge.
The arithmetic is simple. In the global market for many niche products and services, Canada often accounts for only 1 per cent or so of global consumption. Companies that do not export are often ignoring literally 99 per cent of their potential customers.
The process of exporting successfully though is somewhat difficult, particularly for small companies who have never even dreamed they would have to enter global markets. The vast majority of companies has to take to exporting one step at a
time, pausing at each step to seek advice and information about what lies ahead.
The owners of small businesses always emphasize that they are in the market for information about market opportunities and how to exploit them. Canada's trade commissioners can help to achieve this goal. The trade commissioner service has 100 years of experience in opening doors to foreign markets. It knows the ropes and can help exporters deal with the challenges of complex foreign environments.
The government is in the business of offering all kinds of guidance to exporters, particularly to the small and medium sized companies that need help most.
For example, the focus of Canada's program in support of fairs and missions has shifted to smaller businesses. Then there are the programs to provide hands-on training to new exporters to the United States border states, Mexico and Europe.
WIN Exports, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's electronic databank of Canadian firms capable of taking on export challenges, as well as its market intelligence and information program, is also being enhanced to better meet the needs of small businesses seeking niche markets worldwide.
The efforts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade are to assist exporters start right at the beginning, when the decision to export is first being examined by entrepreneurs.
To that end government officials work closely with the Forum for International Trade Training. The Forum for International Trade Training philosophy is that to compete successfully in world markets, a company that wants to export has to act like a long distance runner who trains for a marathon. To help out, the Forum for International Trade Training provides a wide range of services which can be customized to the skill and experience levels of participants. This year the program is operating in 30 community colleges across Canada with some 1,000 students registered.
FITT is a major undertaking, patterned after the government-business training vehicles that have long been in operation in Germany and Japan. As such, FITT has received federal and provincial government funding along with the support of business associations, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Exporters Association and the Canadian Manufacturers' Association.
As significant as these developments are, we can still do better. We cannot rest on our laurels.
Over the last months the Minister for International Trade has been listening to what Canadians have had to say through meetings with small and medium enterprises across Canada as well as a number of other venues. The message conveyed was consistent and clear; do less but do what you already do better. Government is being told that there are too many programs being run by too many players.
In response to demands by the private sector, our government has already taken some preliminary steps which will benefit the business community as a whole but, more important, will also benefit small business.
For example, because of their size, small businesses often do not have the resources to find international trade leads. Accordingly, we are undertaking a number of improvements to the way we collect and disseminate market intelligence and market information. We have put into place an electronic bulletin board service that allows exporters access to the latest international market information by a personal computer and a modem.
We are also developing a market intelligence messaging system for broadcast faxing of trade opportunities. Furthermore, small businesses often complain about the plethora of government programs and are confused by what different levels of government are responsible for when it comes to international trade. This government is therefore undertaking a second set of measures to provide greater cohesion and focus to the support role played by governments.
There is a need for better co-ordination of international business development activity among both federal departments and the provinces.
Accordingly, this year's International Trade Business Plan will include the input and international business activities of all provinces, as well as 18 federal departments and agencies that are already part of the process.
In addition, in conjunction with the provinces and a number of federal government departments, this government is undertaking a new initiative called Trade Team Canada. We are looking to optimize services to clients by co-ordinating the delivery of international business development activities among various levels of government. We intend to move ahead promptly by setting up pilot projects in co-operation with those provinces that have already shown an interest in the idea.
In conclusion, the initiatives that I have been describing are based on a co-operative approach of the kind we need to mobilize Canada's export potential and in particular the potential of our small and medium sized businesses.
Our government is making a conscious effort to consult extensively with our clients. We promised that and we are doing that. I do not think we should just go to our next door neighbours to consult but we should call all of Canada to consult with us and tell us what they want.
Our government is making a conscious effort to consult extensively with our clients, the people of Canada who run our small businesses. I wish to assure the House that we will continue to seek ways to work together with the business community so it can meet the challenges and opportunities of an expanding world market. We will not stop trying until the world beats a path to the door of Canadian small and medium sized businesses.