Mr. Chair, I would like to voice a number of concerns on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. From the outset, the Bloc Québécois has stated that it agrees that there should be negotiations with the European Union. Our party was in fact the first party to propose such negotiations.
The Minister of International Trade stated earlier that it was the success of the free trade agreement with the United States that gave him reason to believe that it would be beneficial for Canadians to enter into a similar agreement with another large country or large political structure, such as the European Union. If the minister were truly responsible, he would be receptive to the various proposals that have been brought before him in an effort to improve any new free trade agreement with a structure as large as the European Union. It cannot be said that the agreement with the United States is all positive. The size of the US market as compared to the Canadian and Quebec markets has caused a number of problems.
I would invite the minister and the Conservatives to pay heed to a number of the misgivings voiced by the opposition parties. I could speak about culture, but I will leave that up to my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, since that is her specialty and she masters it quite brilliantly. The member for Richmond—Arthabaska spoke about agriculture, but I will touch on it again.
The Bloc Québécois believes that this kind of agreement is important to Quebec's export-driven economy. The free trade agreement with the European Union is important because it will help to diversify what are largely export-driven markets that focus on the United States, and that are facing hard times.
I just said that the minister should pay heed. This is quite important. The Conservatives have served us up a culture of secrecy across the board, and in particular when it comes to negotiations. It is understandable that the negotiation process has to be somewhat confidential, but the fact remains that parliamentarians should be better informed regarding potential issues and the process itself. The current practice is deplorable to say the least.
As I was saying, there are various aspects that are cause for concern, and I would like to state them. First, there is the question of government procurement. At the request of the European Union, the various provinces have been invited to take part in the negotiations with Canada’s chief negotiator. The European Union asked that the provinces be involved because it knew that they are in charge of government procurement, in particular procurement by provincial governments, municipalities and various institutions such as school boards, colleges, universities, and so on.
This raises a number of concerns. What limits will be imposed? The chief negotiator has indicated that there would very probably be a limit below which there would be exemptions. For example, all contracts for less than $8 million could potentially be exempted from the free trade agreement, including procurement by municipalities.
We have no assurance on that, however. I think it is important that we have a little more information, and that the government listen to what the provinces and municipalities are calling for.
There are already rules within the European Union, among the 27 member states, and it would be very desirable for the same rules to apply between the European Union and Canada and the provinces in respect of government procurement.
With respect to supply management, I heard the parliamentary secretary and the Minister tell us that the Conservative government has defended supply management since it came to power. I am nonetheless going to reiterate the arguments presented just now. Why is this issue still on the bargaining table if the Conservative government is so committed to defending supply management? How is it that after saying that everything is on the table they have not yet resolved this situation, if they absolutely want to protect it to the very end?
In fact, a question was put to the chief negotiator, Mr. Verheul, at a meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade held on June 15 of this year: what are the main points on which the Europeans are being most demanding, and what are the main points on which we are being most demanding? His answer was particularly disturbing, because he did not clarify anything. He said:
Both countries also have sensitivities in the general area of access for agricultural products, or at least some agricultural products. This will be the subject of discussion further on in the negotiations.
If, on the one hand, we are saying we want to protect supply management, why is the negotiator saying that will be negotiated later? It would be so simple to say we are not touching it, period. It seems to me that this would be much clearer. If the Conservatives want to be clear, they only have to say it. In fact, on that point, there are also other disturbing aspects. An article about the various sections on the preliminary talks for the negotiations is even more problematic since it relates directly to supply management as a domestic support measure. In English, it says:
The Parties agree to cooperate in the WTO agricultural negotiations in order to achieve a substantial reduction of production and trade-distorting domestic support....
Collective marketing mechanisms definitely distort the domestic marketplaces of those countries that implement them. In fact, quotas and tariffs end up determining supply. There is therefore reason to believe that supply management is being targeted by this provision.
It was signed by both parties, which agreed on the issue. On the one hand, it constitutes a general commitment to co-operate under WTO rules, not a concrete undertaking to do away with supply management. That much is quite clear. On the other hand, since supply management is always taken off the bargaining table when it comes time to negotiate free trade agreements, one wonders why it is still there at all. In the current agreement with the European Union, Canada is currently incapable of clearly stating that supply management will not be affected by the agreement because the government has said that “everything is on the table”.
Supply management is crucial to the development of agriculture in Quebec, human-scale agriculture based on the principle of food sovereignty. Danger is at our doorstep, and the Conservatives must reveal their intentions.
There is a lot more to be said on other matters, such as labour standards. The Bloc Québécois wants a truly binding mechanism put in place in order to guarantee that minimum labour standards will be upheld across the board under this agreement and in all related areas. Environmental protection must be considered. Globalization must go hand in hand with environmental protection so that our communities develop in a sustainable manner.
I will stop there and take my colleagues’ questions.