Mr. John Bracken (Neepawa):
The measure introduced by the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) on behalf of the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) is one which seeks the approval of this house to an agreement between five wheat-exporting nations and some thirty-six wheat-importing nations. The agreement has to do with the trade in and the prices for the major food product of the world, namely wheat. The agreement affects directly some 300,000 Canadian farmers and about ten times that many Canadian people. Indirectly it affects the economy of all our thirteen million Canadian people.
I am rising, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Progressive Conservative party to support this agreement.
The agreement deals specifically with the amount of wheat that will enter into world trade between these countries, with the prices to be paid for it, and it sets up the machinery of administration to carry it out. With the principle of the agreement we are in full accord; its details we accept even though we are disappointed with certain of them. We accept them because we realize that the government experts have done the best they could to get the best terms possible, sitting in council with some forty other nations; and we accept these details because, being only one of forty-one nations signatory to this agreement, this parliament could not alter the agreement even if it wished to do so.
As for the machinery of administration, I do not propose to discuss this aspect of the matter tonight. It has received the consideration of the best experts each of these nations
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International Wheat Agreement could send to take part in the formulating of the agreement; and in any case, as I have said, we could not alter these provisions because we are only one of forty-one nations signing it.
In supporting the agreement I do not, nor do the members of the Progressive Conservative party, expect that it will bring about the millennium. As long as human beings are constituted as they are, and as long as the world is governed by half a hundred different nations, each with complete sovereignty, we must not be disappointed if one of these surplus-producing nations drops away from this arrangement when the price outside the agreement becomes higher. Nor must we be disappointed if some of the deficit-producing nations become disappointed and drop away when the price outside the agreement becomes lower and they can buy cheaper.
Nor do we expect that this agreement will remain in perpetuity unchanged. We are not without experience in this respect. Once before a similar agreement was entered into. It failed because one country, feeling that it could do better outside the agreement, withdrew from it, with the result that the agreement lapsed. Let us hope that this agreement will have a longer and more successful life. If it fails we shall have to try again to find what were the weak spots in the arrangement; we shall have to try by every means possible to remove the wide fluctuations in price which have been the chief havoc-producing conditions in our whole wheat economy.
This agreement is not the first and probably will not be the last agreement of this kind between surplus wheat-producing countries and deficit wheat-producing countries or between wheat-exporting countries and wheat-importing countries. I have some personal knowledge of at least four attempts of this kind during the last two decades. The first was entered into about sixteen years ago when the great wheat-growing area of western Canada went through the most serious economic depression which it had ever faced. The second was an agreement entered into during the war, to come into effect when the war was over. It was a provisional arrangement, and unfortunately it never came into effect. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the third agreement was the one signed on behalf of some thirty-six countries last year, the year 1948. The fourth is the agreement which we are now discussing.
I had something to do with the first of these agreements, namely that entered into in 1933,
I think it was. It was upon the urging of myself and two other western Canadian premiers that the government of the day
entered into the first international wheat agreement. That agreement was short-lived because one of the signatories withdrew from its operations. Then the agreement fell into disuse.
The second agreement, namely that made during the war, never came into effect because, when the war was over, certain of the nations allowed themselves to sell their wheat at a price higher than that stated in the agreement. Consequently it never came into effect.
The third agreement, namely that of last year, 1948, did not come into effect because the congress of the United States did not see fit to approve of it. This year's agreement seems to have every prospect of being approved by practically all of the countries whose representatives have signed it. As I said, we can only hope that this agreement will have a longer and more successful existence than the first one.
The purpose of all these agreements has been the same. In fact there have been two purposes in making them. The first was to lessen the extreme fluctuations in price of this great food commodity. When we stop to realize that wheat is the greatest of the food commodities of the world; when we realize also that within the last three decades the price of that commodity has ranged from as low as fifty cents a bushel to as high as $3.50 a bushel, we can see how important its stabilization becomes. When it is $3.50 a bushel those producing it are prosperous and the nation is prosperous. When it is fifty cents a bushel the whole agricultural economy bogs down, and it has a very deleterious effect upon the whole national economy. This is the chief reason why these different nations enter into agreements of this kind-they are trying to lessen the wide fluctuations in price of this important food commodity.
The second purpose of this agreement is to lessen the wide fluctuations in the production and in the export of wheat. In some years the production of this commodity is hundreds of millions of bushels less than in other years. When the production is low the price becomes high, and when the production is high the price becomes low, and both of these conditions are unsatisfactory to our own economy and to the economy of the world.
Likewise it is desirable to try to lessen the extremes of our exports. The export of wheat which goes into world trade varies from as low as 300 million bushels a year to more than 700 million bushels a year. In years when there is only a small export again the price is high, and when there is a large export the price is low. When we stop to realize that in Canada our farmers produce
four or five times as much wheat as the Canadian people consume, w'e can see how important the question of exports and of prices becomes. When we realize that our exports are more than three times as much as the Canadian people consume, or more than twice as much as the sum of what the Canadian people consume, and what they plant, we can understand why our agricultural economy in this country is so vulnerable, why it is so important to try to lessen these wide fluctuations, and why farmers are so greatly concerned when these conditions are not corrected.
The Canadian wheat farmers have always before them two great fears: lack of adequate and stable markets and the lack of adequate and stable prices. The major economic problems which they continually face may be simply stated. They want assured markets for their surplus production, and they want stable prices at levels which will assure both production of this great human food, and an assured level of prices which will enable those who produce that food to live at a decent standard of living.
It was for those reasons that sixteen years ago I urged that the first international wheat agreement ever entered into by Canada should be entered into. I have explained why it failed. It was for these reasons that I, in common with those around me, was agreeable to the acceptance of the agreement of last year, and it is for these reasons that we are prepared to support this measure now before us, even though it is not as favourable in some respects as the agreement we had before us last year.
I want to take but a moment to point out some of the differences in this year's agreement compared with last year's agreement and then I shall be through. The first difference between the agreement now before us and the agreement we had before us a year ago is with respect to the maximum price. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the maximum price in the agreement of a year ago was $2 a bushel. The maximum price allowed in this agreement is $1.80 a bushel. Another difference is with respect to the minimum price. The Prime Minister indicated that there was no change in the minimum price.
Topic: INTERNATIONAL WHEAT AGREEMENT
Subtopic: APPROVAL OF AGREEMENT OPENED FOR SIGNATURE AT WASHINGTON ON MARCH 23, 1949