Hon. George H. Hees (Minister of Trade and Commerce):
Mr. Speaker, I have given careful thought to the question asked yesterday by the hon. member for Essex East, that the house be advised, concerning the 17 permits, of the dates of the permits and of the types and quantities of goods covered in each case, with regard to shipments to Cuba.
I have to bear in mind the undertaking which is given to applicants for export permits that the details they disclose will be treated as confidential. I also have to bear in mind the very important principle observed in the Statistics Act, namely that if there are less: than three exporters of any one category of
Inquiries of the Ministry goods, statistics of export trade will not be separately disclosed but combined with those of other statistical items.
This principle is equally important as it affects disclosure of information on use of export permits, and would be involved in this case in connection with several of these permits. The information which has been requested, coupled with what will shortly appear in the trade statistics, could very well give to anyone knowledgeable in the trades concerned some commercial intelligence useful to potential competitors of the exporters, not only those within Canada but also their competitors in foreign countries. This would provide just the sort of commercial intelligence for which foreign competition is always on the lookout. Unfortunately it is impossible to predict in advance where damage of this nature can occur, and it is certainly in the public interest that the details of the business of Canadian exporters facing competition in foreign markets should be safeguarded.
As I explained in my statement to the house on Friday, December 16, I would have no reason to refuse the tabling of these permits if it were not for this important matter of principle, and I also explained that in disclosing the information I then gave the house I was already going further than I would in normal circumstances consider appropriate.
Since it is the matter of the export of reconditioned aircraft engines which appears to cause the members of the opposition so much concern, I have been assured by the companies concerned that the engines in question which were sent to Canada for reconditioning, and are re-exported for reinstallation in commercial aircraft, are not suitable for inclusion in modern military aircraft.
I have decided that it is time to call a halt to further public disclosure of the details of these transactions. Each successive disclosure represents a further impairment of the assurance of confidential treatment given to applicants. As I reminded the house the other day, it has been the consistent practice of this government, and of the preceding government, to respect the confidential nature of the information which must be disclosed by firms applying for export permits, and we do not intend to depart from this practice.