Hon. Donald M. Fleming (Minister of Finance):
Mr. Speaker, I should like to table copies in English and French of a report which I received yesterday from the chairman of the tariff board. It is the board's report on reference No. 124, fruits and vegetables. The report is accompanied, as is usual, by a transcript of the evidence received by the board at its public hearings.
I know there will be widespread interest in the contents of this report, both on the part of hon. members and on the part of fruit and vegetable growers, processors, and others concerned. For that reason the tariff board, with my approval, gave priority to the completion of this report and a special effort has been made to avoid any delay in tabling it. In that connection I wish to thank my colleague, our gracious Secretary of State (Mrs. Fairclough), for facilitating the prompt printing of the report despite the fact that the Queen's printer was heavily committed on other work.
The tariff board reference arose from the fact that in recent years there had been representations from producers pointing to important changes in techniques of production and methods of distribution, as well as in prices, of fresh fruits and vegetables. It had been suggested that the system of seasonal tariffs was in need of revision. The tariff board was therefore asked to make a study of the items in the Customs Tariff covering fresh fruits and vegetables of a kind grown in Canada and, if such study indicated that amendments to the Customs Tariff were desirable, to prepare a revised schedule of tariff items, with recommendations as to rates of duty. The board was asked also to indicate any consequential amendments which might be required in the tariff items covering the same fruits and vegetables in processed form.
As I have so recently received the tariff board's report, there has not been time for my colleagues and me to make a thorough study of its analysis of the situation and its recommendations as to future action. I am, however, in a position to give the house at
this time some indication of the nature and extent of the proposals contained in the report.
The tariff board received briefs from the Canadian Horticultural Council, processors' representatives, the Canadian Association of Consumers, and others. It held public sittings in Ottawa for three days in July and two days in September. In formulating its recommendations the board appears to have taken account of representations included in the briefs and evidence placed before it at the sittings.
The board's recommendations follow the council's suggestion for the continuation, in principle, of the present statutory provisions for fresh fruits and vegetables. These provisions are intended to give greater protection during the Canadian producers' main marketing season than in the off season. They consist of a basic ad valorem rate of 10 per cent for which may be substituted seasonal specific duties. These seasonal rates have generally a considerably higher ad valorem incidence than the 10 per cent offseason rate. The duration of the application of the in-season rate varies from product to product, depending on the length of the Canadian marketing season.
The tariff board had before it requests from the Canadian Horticultural Council and processors' representatives for 45 changes in the tariff. The requested changes included increases in seasonal specific and other duties, extensions in the periods of application of seasonal duties, the dividing of the application of such duties into two separate periods, and combinations of these forms of tariff protection. The board in its report recommends the adoption in full of the council's proposals in respect of potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, corn on the cob, lettuce, parsnips, sour cherries, cranberries and prunes. The board further recommends the adoption in part of the proposals in respect of brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, peppers, apricots, peaches and pears. Consequential amendments are recommended in the duties on canned and frozen asparagus, frozen brussels sprouts, canned mushrooms, canned apricots, canned and frozen cherries, cranberry jelly or sauce, canned and frozen peaches, and canned prunes.
Inquiries of the Ministry
In its report the tariff board notes that at the public sittings there were suggestions that there should be recourse to the principle of fixing values for duty purposes. The board, however, made no recommendations on this matter, as being beyond its terms of reference.
The Canadian Horticultural Council submitted a request that an additional duty be charged on vegetables imported prepacked in consumer-size polythene or cellophane bags. In making the request the council stated that the bags, if imported alone, would be dutiable at 20 per cent ad valorem whereas for prepackaged vegetables they were dutiable only in so far as they added to the gross weight of the vegetables. Another reason for the request was that the shipping of vegetables in this form led to a greater degree of trimming and preparation, thereby reducing the ad valorem equivalent of the specific duty.
In the light of its study of these representations the tariff board recommended that an item be inserted in the Customs Tariff to provide that an additional duty be charged on certain vegetables when imported during periods of seasonal specific duty in packages weighing five pounds or less. The vegetables to which this provision would apply are green beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, parsnips and corn on the cob.
As I have said, the government has not yet had an opportunity to consider the recommendations presented in the report which I have just tabled. I can, however, assure hon. members that the report will be studied carefully, and that the government will give serious consideration to the tariff board's recommendations. If we decide to take action along the lines of these recommendations we would expect to take the necessary steps in conformity with the general agreement on tariffs and trade.
Subtopic: TABLING OF REPORT OF TARIFF BOARD