Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, we are here today to debate Bill C-21. For the riding of Selkirk—Interlake, any bill dealing with trade and tariffs is of primary importance. I have some points to make here today that will add to the debate.
Just so it is clear, as some people may be watching at home, Bill C-21 amends two sections of the customs tariff, specifically the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff. Under this bill, they are extended for another 10 years until June 30, 2014. The current legislation expires on June 30, 2004, so this matter is becoming fairly urgent. That is why it is being brought to the House now. This is the kind of legislation that the government should be making an earlier commitment on, a commitment to have it fully explored as opposed to trying to have it done in a rush without due diligence or thought.
These sections of Bill C-21, along with the act itself, are very important due to the fact that the majority of nations in the world that we trade with fall under this act in relation to the international agreements we have with them. Canada needs this stability in its import markets as well as in the export markets. On trade, it is my opinion that Canada absolutely needs to have the most extensive trading network possible on the international scene.
Every country in the world has something that Canadians would like to buy and probably every country in the world would like to buy something from Canada. Of course every country looks at this and says that for a country to get richer, it would like to sell but not buy anything. In this way a country could get richer and it would let other countries fend for themselves. But that is not the way it works. We have trade agreements that help facilitate this.
I believe that the ultimate objective in the world would be to have a trading system or relationship that is without tariffs and without barriers to trade so that all nations, and poor nations in particular, could bring themselves to a higher standard of living and become richer. I think that is what trade does.
Over history, the most successful nations in the world have been those nations that have used trade and the enrichment that trade brings not only to ensure that they have the financial resources to have a good way of life, but to ensure that they also have the cultural effects. People move from country to country and end up spreading their culture and good ideas around.
We also know that facilitating trade and having a lot of trade relationships with other countries have an overall security effect. If countries are closely intertwined in a cultural and economic relationship, they will be less inclined to battle each other and fight to the detriment of both. That is why we on the Conservative side are so much in favour of expanding trade. We are not saying we should expand trade at any cost, and of course the world has not yet reached the point where we can say that it is total and 100% free trade among all nations and everything will be fine, but it is one of those lofty goals that we in Canada have to reach for.
This customs tariff is organized into several major components. One is the most favoured nations tariff. We also have the general preferential tariff and a least developed country tariff. Finally, nations are subject to the general tariff rates.
These rules are under domestic legislation, which is what we are doing here today, and also under international trade agreements. The WTO, the World Trade Organization, is one of those organizations to which this applies. Of course our relationships with other countries on a bilateral or trilateral basis are also trade agreements. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is one of those other agreements.
To digress a little, when I am travelling across the country as the agriculture critic with the Conservative Party, I hear farmers say that “those doggone Europeans”, or the Americans or whoever, have slapped a duty on us. For instance, a duty has been slapped onto wheat, affecting the whole country but western Canada in particular. These are examples.
People blame the WTO and NAFTA for the duties that were slapped on. That is a typical trick of the NDP. They just love to say that these world trade agreements and globalization are bad, bad, bad.
The facts of the matter are these. I will use the example of the United States cattle a few years ago. We remember R-CALF, that producer group in the U.S. It was concerned that with our cattle going down there it was causing undue harm to the financial well-being of the United States. The United States producers used domestic U.S. law to put up those tariffs. What do we do when we are a little country of some 30 million people compared to a country of some 300 million people? It is a big difference. It is the old story of the elephant and the mouse. Those tariffs got slapped on and it cost us an awful lot of money. We had to pay to get our beef across the border and the Americans kept the money.
My point is that because of the WTO agreements and the NAFTA agreement we were able to use the dispute settlement mechanisms and we got the U.S. to back off on its domestic trade laws. It had misused those laws and was in contravention of the WTO. That is why we in the Conservative Party are such strong supporters of NAFTA, of World Trade Organization talks and of other international agreements that facilitate trade and, most important, stop the big guy from bullying the little guy.
I have talked about NAFTA and the WTO and the dispute settlement mechanisms. I would like to talk for a minute about agriculture in particular. The importance of tariffs is paramount as the negotiations go on in changing to this new order that everybody is talking about, where tariffs will come down.
I will remind the House that the general belief and policy position of the Conservative Party is that tariffs should be negotiated down. But in the case of supply management, our system in Canada certainly has control of supply. Extra supply is not put out. This is done through a legislative process. There is a built in cost of production formula so that there is some reasonable return on those products.
Part of the three pillars of supply management is that import tariffs have to be sufficient to prevent other countries from putting a lot of product into Canada over and above what we have agreed to at the WTO. Those high tariffs do that for supply management.
Many people like to say that the member for Selkirk—Interlake is against supply management or that he is against this or that. A lot of misinformation is being put out. Unfortunately, I happen to have a lot of these four-legged creatures, called cows, at home, and the beef industry in Canada is protected by tariffs also. We have a limit of around 79,000 tonnes that comes in from oceanic countries like Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. That limit is there for the purpose of not having our beef industry flooded with excessive amounts of cheap foreign beef.
We will be working to lower those tariffs so we can have more free trade in the beef industry. That can be done at the negotiations of the WTO. However, we will not arbitrarily lower these tariffs. It is the same with the supply management side. The Conservative Party very clearly will not arbitrarily lower those import tariffs.
We will have to negotiate those tariffs at the WTO. The former agriculture minister said that the government supported supply management 110,000% and that it would never change. There was that kind of talk. Even the current minister says things along the same idea, but he modifies it a bit.
On supply management, trade and tariffs, in 1995 the Liberal government, with the current Prime Minister as part of that government, signed away article XI, the article in the trade agreements between countries that protected supply management from any change. The government put it on the negotiating table of the WTO. It said that it would agree to 5% imports in 1995. Later the Liberal government negotiated to have the supply management tariffs, which were on the negotiating table, lowered so we in Canada would end up accepting more imports of supply management commodities.
I think the Liberal government is proceeding along with that process because it is on the table at the WTO right now, which is where it should be. We all have to look at every sector of our economy and participate ultimately in world negotiations. That is supply management.
There is some name calling by the Liberals, and I have expressed their misstating of our position on trade and on supply management in particular. However, I would like them to remember that our position is consistent, whether it be beef or supply management.
I will talk briefly about tariffs and the two particular parts of our agriculture industry. This is where I get to the former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and many of the Liberal members, who are still sitting here. Under the least developed country tariff agreement, the prime minister said that we would accept agriculture commodities from the least developed countries to help them enrich themselves. They could sell more to Canada to make their economies work better. That would allow the poor farmer to sell more to help enrich a country. However, he said that we would not let any supply management commodities come into the country. Rather we would allow only those non-supply management commodities. That made a lot of farmers say, “Just a minute”. They said that if we were to have international agreements that affected agriculture, at least it should be done in a uniform basis so all commodities would be affected similarly.
That was one of the big faults with the Liberals. They tried to pick out one or two commodity groups and treat them different from all agriculture commodities across the country. That is just plain not fair, and it causes division between agriculture groups.
I know the Grain Growers of Canada, with their excellent executive director Cam Dahl, has one kind of possession on the trade that we should be moving toward greater trade. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is generally saying that tariffs should not be reduced too much, that we should keep the status unless we can get the deal we want, and if we do not get what we want, we should not negotiate. Once again, this is causing dissension between commodity groups in the country.
Canada is saying that it is part of the Cairns Group, which is the group of countries, primarily led by Australia. It is recognized as the leaders of those middle sized countries in the trading world that want to see everyone enrich themselves and prosper. It points out that this cannot be done when rich countries and rich groups of countries, namely, the United States and the European Union, have so much money that they can outbid and out-finance every other country in the world and in effect subsidize their farmers to the point where they can compete with anybody because they can produce the food for nothing and still make a living. That is wrong.
The Cairns Group wants to change that, and that is tremendously important in looking at all these tariffs and trade agreements. It is tremendously important that tariffs come down and that trade is facilitated between countries. The Cairns Group is certainly a leader in that.
I wanted to bring up the Cairns Group in this context because Canada is part of that group, but it is not really a leader in it. We are the biggest country in the group, from an economic point of view, and we should be a leader and go for the ultimate goal of freer trade, lower tariffs and greater market access. That is tremendously important.
About four years ago I was in Washington, D.C. We talked to the people who dealt with least developed countries that were trying to enrich themselves. The speaker pointed out very clearly the importance of having countries willing to accept imports from these poorer countries.
The conclusion of my speech is that we have to, as rich Canadians, allow greater imports into Canada by these poorer countries. We will end up becoming richer also, and not with just a good feeling in our hearts. When those countries become richer, they will buy more beef from us, and that will help our cattle ranchers.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Customs Tariff