Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise today to speak in relation to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
I would also like to mention that I did rise out of my chair slowly, as may have been seen on camera, because I ran 10 kilometres on Sunday to support a great charity in Barrie for the member of Parliament for Barrie, who did a great job and sold out. I would like to express my thanks to him and the town of Barrie.
I do want to talk about free trade and the belief I have in free trade around the world and the ability for Canada to open up its markets, because it is very important of course to the people I represent, to the businesses, the financial sectors, the farmers and agriculture producers.
I find it surprising that the NDP still takes the position of anti-free trade. We have seen bluntly what protectionism does to countries. In particular, we have seen iron curtains put up and brought down. They simply do not work. To be protectionist simply, in my mind, creates an atmosphere that brings about the surety that the NDP is not fit to govern because one cannot live in a house that is closed today. Certainly, if we close the borders of our country, we will all suffer the consequences for many years.
Therefore, I do want to put my support in this place firmly in the position behind free trade agreements. Even listening to the arguments, we hear they are quite hollow. Free trade will help the workers of Panama under the conditions that we provide them jobs and we provide a better quality of life as a result of their ability to trade with us.
This agreement actually would bring about additional market access for our agricultural and agrifood producers and exporters. That is very important to my constituents in northern Alberta, because I have many cattle producers, and there are many people who are in the agricultural and agrifood business in all parts of this country. Bluntly, Canada has a competitive advantage in the agribusiness. We can use that competitive advantage to ensure we continue to have the great quality of life that we do have in Canada.
As Canada's agricultural and agrifood sector becomes more modern, innovative and competitive, the sector is becoming a more significant part of Canada's economy. In fact, many people do not realize this but in 2010, the agriculture and agrifood industry directly accounted for one in eight jobs in Canada. This actually translated to employment for more than 2 million people. That is a lot of people who are employed through this sector.
In the same year, it accounted for about 8% of the GDP of the country. I would like to make mention that 8% of GDP is about the same as what my constituency in northern Alberta, through production of the oil sands, brings into this country, another 8%. Therefore, it is equivalent to about the same as the agricultural and agrifood business in the country as to the gross domestic product it produces for the country. Obviously, both are very important for Canada and for the continued great quality of life we enjoy.
Increasingly, over the last 15 years the agricultural and agrifood sector has become internationally focused. In 2011, exports valued at more than $41 billion were accounted for in this sector from Canada. This actually ranks Canada as the fifth largest exporter of agriculture and agrifood products in the world, which is a very important place to be. I am hoping with these new free trade agreements we can actually see that rise to first, if not to fourth or third, in the near future.
It is no surprise then, as a result of the great amount of the financial sector and the amount of jobs that are produced by the agricultural and agrifood sector, that our Conservative government continues to work tirelessly on ways to improve access to international markets. I know that my friend, the Minister of International Trade, is doing a great job there and I appreciate his doing that. I barely see him in the House anymore because he is always out somewhere in the world and is extremely busy and working hard for Canadians abroad. I especially appreciate the opportunity he has taken out of his own life to support Canada and Canada's trade market in the agricultural food and agrifood business.
We are achieving this great significant milestone through our commitment to pursue bilateral and regional trade agreements. These trade agreements are essential for continued prosperity for Canadians. I think most people know that.
During question period, the parliamentary secretary actually confirmed how many trade deals we have initiated as a Conservative government. I think it is probably more by three times than was done in the previous 13 years by the previous Liberal government, so we have seen a real focus on that by our government. I think it goes a long way to say how well we are doing as a country.
Certainly, we know the OECD has identified us as being a very strong economy, with the best banking sector and the best financial sector in the world. That is no surprise when we see agreements like the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
The Conservative government has taken a very firm position on this because we know that to succeed in a global economy, we have to have a strong export market.
We want to ensure that our Canadian agriculture and agrifood producers and exporters remain competitive with other preferential suppliers to Panama, because we are not competing against ourselves; we are competing against other countries. We need to make sure that we have a competitive advantage. We do have a competitive advantage. We have large tracts of land. We have a very good, experienced workforce in the agriculture-agrifood sector. We have the ability to innovate and create, and we have the best agricultural sector in the world, bar none.
We certainly can use these competitive advantages to become that number one exporter. For example, one of the things that has happened in Canada's exports is, believe it or not, frozen french fries. Now, frozen french fries may not seem like a lot to many people. I know some of our members have particular fetishes toward frozen french fries, as we can hear in the background. However, when we get well down into it, this industry would immediately benefit from this because there would be an elimination of the 20% tariffs on this product.
In 2011, Canada exported almost $12 million worth of frozen french fries to Panama. This is a $1 million increase over 2010 exports, at a time when things are supposed to be tough in the world. Now, that is a lot of potatoes. That is a lot of potato farmers who we support through these trade deals and through these free trade agreements. I think that is often forgotten by the NDP, that it is actually the farmers we are helping support, the farmers of P.E.I. or wherever they are growing potatoes across this great country, and the ability for those people who package those frozen french fries to be able to keep their jobs, as well, on the assembly line; so it is the manufacturers and the farmers.
Our pulse exporters would also benefit from an immediate tariff elimination with the implementation of this free trade agreement, because tariffs of up to 15% would be eliminated on its implementation. Fifteen per cent of nothing. I do not mean that 15% is nothing. I mean that 15% does nothing for anybody. Those tariffs, those barriers to trade, are not helping Canadian workers and are not helping Panamanian workers. They are simply doing nothing. That is why it would be so good to see.
In 2011, Canada exported more than $5 million worth of lentils to Panama. Now, that is a lot of lentils, as well. This is almost double the amount of our trade on this product in 2006.
There is a growing market for dried peas in Panama, from Canada. In 2011, Canada exported more than $1 million worth of dried peas. People forget about that, that it is the farmers, that it is the packers, that it is the manufacturing process, all the way from the farmer to the plate, that takes place in Canada. We want to see more manufacturing, more assembling of product, but we also want to see the farmers being able to grow their product and sell it overseas because that is what they are doing. That is what they have a competitive advantage on.
Canadian malt exporters would also benefit from the immediate elimination of Panamanian tariffs of up to 10%. Again, that is 10% for nothing, just a barrier to trade that does not accomplish anything, that does not give anybody a real job. That is what we are doing in this government: making sure that people have real jobs, that farmers have real jobs and that they have some ability to sell their products overseas.
In 2011, Canada exported more than $8 million worth of malt products to Panama. That is a significant amount of malt. This is a significant increase, as well, from the $3 million worth of malt exports in 2010.
So, we can see that the elimination of these tariffs in this free trade agreement would greatly enhance our ability to export products, agricultural products and agrifood products, to Panamanian society.
In fact, there would be some real benefits to different parts of the country, and I want to talk about that a bit.
In Quebec, for instance, key exports such as pork, industrial and construction machinery, pharmaceuticals and aerospace products would receive a real benefit. In fact, that is where this particular province and the farmers from this province would receive a real benefit. They would also receive a benefit for investment services for the engineering, construction and transportation sectors. That is just in Quebec,
I know I do not have a lot of time left, but Ontario and the western provinces would also receive real benefits.
The real benefits are that we eliminate barriers and trade deals that do not help our producers or our country. We enhance free trade, and it works.