Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
The motion before the House calls on the government to reaffirm its support for forestry workers and denounce efforts by foreign-funded environmental activists to tarnish the Canadian forestry sector's environmental reputation. I am happy to be speaking today because forestry is central to the economic prosperity of my own region, the Mauricie, in Quebec.
I can assure the House that our government is well aware of the very real hardships the industry is facing and of the impact recent events have had on our forestry communities and their workers, in the Mauricie and elsewhere. I would remind the House that it was our government that took targeted and tangible measures to protect and defend the industry. We have also worked to foster new business opportunities in some highly competitive markets in order to ensure the prosperity of our forestry workers.
Our government is always endeavouring to find new, innovative ways of supporting every stakeholder in the industry, from large corporations and small family businesses to every last worker along the value chain, in every community that relies on forestry.
As Minister of International Trade, I know that over 70% of Canada's forestry products are exported. That is why selling our forest products to the world and Canada's international reputation as an environmentally responsible supplier of sustainable forestry products are among our government's top priorities.
As I was saying to my colleague opposite, my first team Canada trade mission was focused on the Chinese softwood lumber market and included all of our forestry partners, such as Canada Wood and Quebec and New Brunswick representatives. Our goal was to showcase the innovation that we are famous for in the Chinese market.
What I feel is important to emphasize today is that our industry, the best in the world, is about so much more than the product it sells. It offers real solutions to the needs of all modern societies: it supplies a product that is in demand, fights climate change, and adds major value. That is why we are opening up new markets for our producers. For one thing, we want them to have more choices, and for another, softwood lumber offers solutions and is an essential commodity for the biggest markets in the world.
We have also turned to other markets in Asia, where we have held meetings, such as in Singapore, in Vietnam and in the Middle East, to increase our exports and promote our commitment to sustainable forest management. The goal of our plan is to improve business relations with the current main foreign buyers of Canadian forestry products, and to establish stronger relations with new long-term buyers. We are doing that with the support of our team of highly qualified employees in Canada’s missions abroad, and we also use the tools and expertise of Export Development Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation.
As Canada’s chief marketing officer, I have made a priority of softwood lumber. I am first and foremost the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. I have often had the opportunity to meet with employees at Resolute Forest Products, in Haute-Mauricie, and I can testify to their love for the forest and their professionalism. They are proud, hard-working and responsible people.
Remember, with my colleagues the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we announced on June 1 that our government would invest $860 million in tangible measures under the Lumber Action Plan. My colleague called for tangible measures earlier. We have invested a total of nearly $1 billion to promote innovation and productivity in our forestry sector. This plan offers support to forestry workers and to communities affected by the United States' recent measures targeting softwood lumber.
This plan was developed to directly support workers, as mentioned by the Quebec Forestry Industry Council, whose new president recognizes the work that we have done and that we continue to do in support of the forestry industry. He was once a colleague of ours in the House, a Conservative member; I salute him. That investment is concrete assistance for softwood lumber that will allow for its sustainability and ensure continued operations and development.
It is also our government that has taken strong and concerted action to counter the American administration's unfair measures. This action plan shows the Government’s commitment to taking quick action to overcome the difficulties our important forestry sector must face. It describes the overall strategy of our government to develop markets around the world in a targeted and global manner in order to increase the diversification of trade and Canadian wood and wood product markets as part of our commitment to promote a clean growth economy.
These concerted efforts, combined with the quality products of our Canadian businesses, have already provided initial results in terms of positive growth for exports of Canadian softwood lumber to markets outside the United States. For example, in the first half of 2017, exports to China increased by nearly $50 million dollars compared to the second half of 2016, which is a significant increase. India tripled its imports of Canadian softwood lumber over the same period. We have also seen positive growth in new and emerging markets, including the Philippines and South Korea.
These recent initiatives were not put in place overnight; they are based on our department’s long-standing commitment to support trade associations and businesses that want to develop international trade. Consequently the Canadian trade commissioner service, which has five central regional offices in Canada and more than 161 offices worldwide, is actively involved in various international trade promotion and development initiatives for Canadian forestry products in traditional and emerging markets, often in partnership with national and provincial trade associations throughout Canada, our federal partners at Natural Resources Canada, and of course, our provincial and territorial counterparts.
By working together, we obtain much better results. The trade commissioner service, whose focus is to help small and medium-sized businesses, has employees in 44 of our embassies and consulates around the world who are responsible for offering direct export support for Canada’s forestry product businesses.
These international trade professionals work on the ground, and I commend them for their efforts and know that my colleagues on both sides of the House do too. These professionals work to facilitate numerous initiatives to promote international trade development by Canadian wood product trade associations that receive funds form the expanding market opportunities program led by Natural Resources Canada.
Last year, the tangible results of that commitment included some 45 initiatives specific to forestry products and wood carried out in 16 countries by our trade commissioner service, more than 40 trade agreements with foreign organizations, and some 500 forestry sector clients across Canada who received services and support over the course of the year.
On behalf of forestry sector workers, I thank the trade commissioner service staff for being there to help.
I will set my notes aside and simply say to those watching us that the people who are familiar with the forestry sector, the workers who I meet when I return to my riding on the weekends, know that our government is there to help them. We are with them, we were with them, and we will be with them every step of the way.
As a member of the government, a member of the government's Quebec caucus, and a minister, I always have the interests of forestry workers at heart. I take every opportunity to promote them.