Madam Speaker, this being my first speech in the 43rd Parliament, I would like to thank the residents of Don Valley East for their confidence in me.
I thank the hon. member for raising the vital issue of our relationship with China. As I have been listening to the presentations by various members of Parliament, we need to reflect on the motion itself and whether it would get the intended results.
On this anniversary of the detention of two Canadians, we all share the concerns of getting an early release of the Canadians who were arbitrarily detained. However, would the committee that is being proposed be able to handle that? Are there any existing standing committees that could best address these issues?
The motion talks about a diplomatic crisis. I hope we think through this clearly. How would this committee be charged to take on a diplomatic issue. The standing committees on foreign affairs, trade, security, etc., could deal with issues that have arisen.
As I look at the motion logically, I do not believe it is in the best interest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to have the government publicly discuss the ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure their release. There are things that can be discussed in public and there are things that need to be done discreetly. The proposed motion would not allow this.
Our government has been working hard to ensure the release of the two Canadians. We have sought the assistance of other like-minded countries and are grateful to them for their support.
The other aspect of the discussion of the House on this topic focused on our agriculture industry as well.
Our farmers are critical to our economy. Canada and China have a long-standing relationship, spanning almost half a century. China is a priority market for the Canadian agriculture sector and our second-largest trading partner after the United States.
The agriculture industry is very important. Canada is a significant trading nation. We are in the top five exporters of agriculture and agrifood products. We are the world's top exporter of canola, flax, pulse crops and wild blueberries. We are in the top three exporters of wheat and pork. On average, about half of the value of Canada's agriculture product is exported.
Our farmers depend on exports. Well over a third of their wheat crop, two-thirds of their pork, 85% of their canola and 90% of their pulse crops are exported. All told, agriculture and agrifood and fish and seafood trade drive over $66 billion of our exports and contribute $16 billion to our balance of trade. All this economic activity supports jobs, growth and opportunities for Canadians.
We are pleased that through our diplomatic efforts, China restored access to our high-quality Canadian meat last month. Our appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada's ambassador to China enables Canada's advocacy efforts to resolve trade issues, as well as the release of the two Canadians.
Issues like this this do not get resolved without the hard work of our industry and trade officials in the trade area and of course the leadership of Mr. Barton and his diplomatic efforts.
I heard some hon. members mention canola. We continue to work hard to restore our canola markets in China. The canola sector contributes almost $27 billion to Canada's economy and employs a quarter of a million Canadians. Canadians take pride in this industry as it is an innovation by our scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
In April, we formed an industry-government working group, co-chaired by the Canola Council of Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with representatives from the prairie provinces. The working group continues to meet regularly, with discussions focused on developing strategies to resolve the market access issues with China.
In the meanwhile, to help the canola farmers, we have instituted an advance payment program and implemented the stay of default, and extended the deadline of agristability.
The advanced payments program helps producers manage their cash flow concerns throughout the year. We also increased the interest-free cash advances available to canola producers from $100,000 to $500,000 for the 2019 program year. Total advances of up to $1 million are now available for canola and all other commodities, up from $400,000. This change is permanent and will be available beyond 2019.
With our provincial partners, we also extended the agristability enrolment deadline by two months.
I would add that we are working closely with the Canadian canola industry every step of the way. As the president of the Canola Council of Canada said in his recent “speech from the combine”, “The draw bolt of growing the ag sector is cooperation between industry and government, and between the federal and provincial levels of government.”
The canola sector has participated in trade missions to key markets in Asia with both the hon. Minister of International Trade and the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. In her meeting with the G20 agricultural ministers earlier this year in Japan, the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food also took the opportunity to engage the Chinese minister of agriculture and talk about Canada's concerns.
The canola industry has also hailed the appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada's ambassador to China to help advance Canadian interests at this critical time. Most recently, Canada has been meeting with China for formal consultations under the WTO in an effort to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. We continue to push hard to restore business with China.
If our farmers are to take full advantage of sales opportunities around the globe, we absolutely need to address the issues of non-tariff trade barriers, and we need to ensure farmers have the tools they need to compete on the world stage. Canadian farmers can compete with the best the world has to offer, but to do so, they need a level playing field that is clear of barriers to trade.
Our government is standing shoulder to shoulder with Canadians producers and farming families. Canadian farmers should know that we have their backs.
I thank the hon. member for raising the issue. For us to address the multipronged issues of globalization and geopolitics, it is important that we use diplomacy rather than create another bureaucracy that may impede this process.