Mr. Speaker, I also appreciate the opportunity I have been give today to participate in the discussion on global farm income and to describe some of the steps that this government has taken to support our agricultural producers.
Specifically, I would like to address the issue of the World Trade Organization negotiations on agriculture and highlight the efforts by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food and the Minister of International Trade to establish equitable rules of the game for international markets, rules that will allow our farmers—already among the most productive on the planet—to compete more equitably and effectively in international markets.
Achieving the expected results in the World Trade Organization negotiations is absolutely vital to ensuring the future prosperity of our agricultural sector and, in fact, to ensuring the prosperity of the entire country.
Every year, agriculture contributes between $5 billion and $7 billion to the nation’s trade balance and represents some 10% of our annual trade surplus. In 2004, we exported more than $26 billion worth of agrifood products to over 180 countries.
The agriculture and agrifood sector represents approximately 8% of Canada's gross domestic product and one out of every eight jobs in the country. There can be no doubt that this industry is absolutely essential to the economic well-being of Canada.
In addition, the members of this industry have performed strongly during a difficult economic period. Although farm incomes are declining, Canadian agricultural products are internationally recognized for their superior quality. In fact, Canada is the world’s third-ranking exporter of agrifood products—convincing confirmation of the high esteem in which Canadian agricultural products are held.
Nonetheless, to derive maximum benefit from this reputation, to be able to compete in international markets and also to allow our producers to continue to earn their living in their chosen career, we must ensure that all the nations on the planet play by the same clear, enforceable rules.
Canada has attempted, in the current round of negotiations on the Doha agenda, to encourage the creation of a trading system that will allow all countries, irrespective of their relative political or economic power, to compete equitably in compliance with rules that are accepted by all.
Now, as we are coming up on an important milestone in the current round of negotiations for the Doha agenda, that is, the ministerial conference in Hong Kong, we are focusing even more on the attainment of those objectives. These negotiations are our best opportunity to work with other countries to develop an level playing field by eliminating tariff barriers that until now have limited the ability of Canadian producers to compete fairly in international markets.
Since the very beginning of the negotiations, we have had our sights set on three specific objectives that should make the level playing field possible. Canada's objectives consist first in eliminating all export subsidies for all products; second in substantially reducing domestic support that distorts trade; and third and last, in significantly improving access to foreign markets for all our products.
Attaining these objectives and creating fair rules will provide real benefits for our producers. For example, the elimination of export subsidies, which is a longstanding Canadian objective, would allow Canadian exporter to compete more fairly and more effectively in international markets. This is especially true for the grain and red meat industries, which have to compete against subsidized European producers.
Significant measures to reduce and harmonize domestic supports that distort trade—that is, the countries that subsidize the most would make the biggest reductions—could go a very long way toward establishing fair rules and would benefit Canadian producers, who have to deal with European subsidies for grain and red meat and American subsidies for grain and oilseeds.
Moreover, an ambitious harmonization formula for tariff reductions should give Canadian exporters better access to key industrialized and developing countries, especially for products like beef, pork, oilseeds and special crops, as well as for various processed goods.
At the same time, Canada continues to defend the right of Canadian producers to make up their own minds as to the best way to market their products, including the use of structured marketing systems like the supply management system and the Canadian Wheat Board.
We are making every effort to present our ideas as the best way of achieving a level playing field for international trade, which our producers need to be able to compete fairly in international markets.
I would like to point out that these actions are not intended to benefit our agriculture industry alone. The health and prosperity of our entire economy are directly dependent on our ability to compete effectively in a context of increasing globalization.
The Government of Canada has made these negotiations a priority, and Canada plays a very important role in the international negotiation process. We are working with many countries to present our ideas as the best way of establishing fair rules for the world trade system.
Canada is known for its propensity for presenting practical, credible ideas that facilitate negotiations. Many important Canadian concepts have been incorporated into draft agreements, along with proposals from other countries in the WTO. We intend to continue working very hard to achieve our objectives in close consultation with provincial and territorial governments and industry representatives.
In addition to our efforts during these especially long and difficult negotiations to finally arrive at fair, equitable rules for our farmers, I would like to remind the House of the major achievements of the Canada agriculture and food international program, also known as the CAFI program.
It is a key part of Canada's international strategy, which was specifically put in place to support our agriculture and agri-food sector by facilitating the development of long term international strategies.
We will be able to ensure, therefore, that this sector is well placed to succeed on the largest markets and to respond to both the increase in consumer demand and any increased competitiveness on international markets.
The CAFI program provides matching funds for every dollar invested by the industry in support of activities that enhance Canada's reputation as a world leader in safe, high quality agricultural and agri-food products, beverages and seafood in order to respond to the constantly changing demands of international markets.
In promoting its own ideas on international trade, the Government of Canada tries to enhance the profitability of farmers and farm families all across the country.
Similarly, by being more successful on the international level, that is to say, by improving the recognition of its brands, facilitating market access, and eliminating technical barriers to trade, Canada ensures that its agricultural and agri-food sector will continue to grow and prosper. This will translate in turn into a stronger national economy that benefits all Canadians.
We will do everything in our power to ensure that this proud Canadian tradition continues, for both our current generation of farmers and the generations to come.