Mr. Speaker, thank you for making sure everyone is listening. The agreement we are discussing is very important.
We worked hard to secure a good deal that will benefit all Canadians. For example, the provisions that protect women's rights, minority rights and indigenous rights are the strongest in any Canadian trade agreement to date. This includes obligations with respect to the elimination of employment discrimination based on gender. The new NAFTA is also the first international trade agreement that recognizes gender identity and sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination in its labour chapter.
I would add that, from the very beginning of the negotiation process, we emphasized the need to protect middle-class jobs and support economic growth. The vast majority of Canadian businesses are SMEs. They employ over 10.5 million Canadians, accounting for about 90% of the private sector workforce. The new agreement will help these Canadian businesses by giving them access to the U.S. and Mexican markets and promoting collaboration between the parties to create more opportunities for trade and investment.
During the 42nd Parliament, I had the honour and privilege of being a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade for two and a half years. The agreements that we signed include CETA and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, the agreement with the United States and Mexico is very important. The committee and parliamentarians worked very hard to move forward on this file, which is of vital importance to Canada. CUSMA includes a chapter on SMEs designed to complement the other commitments made throughout the agreement. It includes requirements to make available information that is specifically tailored to SMEs, including information on entrepreneurship, education programs for youth and under-represented groups, and information on obligations in the agreement that are particularly relevant to SMEs.
CUSMA also provides SMEs with an opportunity to collaborate in addressing any issue that could impact them in the future. In my riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which includes Deux-Montagnes, Saint-Eustache, Boisbriand and Rosemère, SMEs are the main employers. The new agreement establishes a committee on SME issues and an annual trilateral SME dialogue that brings together representatives of private sector employees, non-governmental organizations and other experts to discuss issues pertaining to the agreement that are relevant to SMEs. By doing so, CUSMA will give a voice to Canadian SMEs and facilitate discussions on issues that matter to them.
In keeping with our commitment to adopting an inclusive approach to trade, Canada carefully considered the interests of indigenous peoples throughout the negotiations. The Government of Canada is determined to advance the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect and co-operation. Given the efforts made by Canada to renew this relationship, one of Canada's objectives is to better advocate for the commercial interests of indigenous peoples. To that end, the Government of Canada has undertaken a vast consultation with chiefs and indigenous representatives and also with businesses and experts to better understand their commercial interests and obtain their advice on the priorities for the negotiations.
For the first time in a Canadian free trade agreement, the CUSMA includes a general exception that clearly states that the government can adopt or maintain measures it deems necessary to fulfill its legal obligations towards indigenous peoples. This exception is a testament to the commitment by all three countries to ensure that the agreement's obligations do not interfere with a country's legal obligations towards indigenous peoples.
We are proud to have made indigenous peoples the focus of the NAFTA renegotiations. As National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said, the new NAFTA's provisions addressing indigenous peoples make this most inclusive international trade agreement for indigenous peoples to date. The provisions will uphold the ancestral, inherent and treaty rights of first nations.
Furthermore, we are proud to have included a chapter on the environment in lieu of the side letter to the original NAFTA.
The chapter on the environment recognizes the important role indigenous peoples play in long-term environmental and biodiversity conservation, as well as sustainable fishing and forestry. The environmental provisions also take into account the rights of indigenous peoples under the Constitution for the use and development of natural resources.
Finally, for the first time in a Canadian free trade agreement, the preamble recognizes how important it is for indigenous peoples to participate more in trade and investment decisions. In addition to achieving results for SMEs, indigenous peoples and, of course, the cultural exemption, Canada has made gender equality and women's empowerment top priorities.
For instance, the labour chapter levels the playing field when it comes to labour standards and working conditions in North America, and includes commitments to ensure that national laws and policies provide protections for fundamental principles and rights at work. This includes provisions on non-discrimination in the workplace, including gender discrimination. It also includes provisions that encourage the adoption of programs and policies to tackle barriers to the full participation of women in the workforce. The agreement supports co-operative activities dealing with questions on gender issues in the workplace, particularly gender equality.
The investment chapter includes a special provision that reaffirms the importance of encouraging businesses to uphold standards of corporate social responsibility, including those that apply to gender equality.
The chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises encourages the parties to collaborate on activities that will maximize trade opportunities for SMEs owned by women and promote their participation in international trade. Taken together, the agreement's provisions on equality address the issue directly.
I have to say a few words about the cultural exemption. I remember the Standing Committee on International Trade's trip to Washington. When I said that Canada has over eight million French speakers, they had no idea what I was talking about. That is why the cultural exemption is so important. It affects the cultural industry and means that Canada will still be able to create and maintain programs and policies that support our thriving cultural industries. The industry represents 75,000 jobs in Quebec, and culture represents 2.7% of our GDP and 3.6% of all jobs in Canada. That was a very important gain, and I am very proud of it.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that we worked incredibly hard to make sure the new agreement benefits Canadians, and not just middle-class workers and small businesses, but traditionally under-represented groups, such as women and indigenous peoples, too.
As I said, the cultural exemption was very important, and I can proudly say that our goals were met. We made significant progress in improving standards and benefits for all Canadians.