Good morning, everyone. What a crowd we have here today. I haven't seen so many people since a Bryan Adams concert. It must be a big show in town here today.
My name is Mark Eyking. I'm the chair of the trade committee, and on behalf of all our members, I welcome everybody who's here today and anybody who's covering this committee meeting and, of course, anybody who's out there watching us.
I'd also like to welcome the two ambassadors we have with us here today, the ambassador from Mexico and the ambassador from Taiwan.
Our committee is a very active committee. Of course, everybody knows that Canada is a trading nation, but over the last few years, since this Parliament, we've had a lot on our plate in dealing with the trade agreement with Europe, and the TPP, and right now our focus is on present and future relationships in North American trade with our trading partners, the United States and Mexico.
I have a few housekeeping things to mention. I know that we have a bigger crowd than usual, but we have translation here for you. If you are not sitting in one of those green chairs and you need translation, there are headphones in the back for you. I'd also just remind everybody that you are not allowed to take photographs during this meeting.
So, why are we meeting here in the middle of the summer? Well, this is a very important time for Canada, with the United States and Mexico, and we've invited the minister responsible for the United States, the , to be here today.
We welcome you, and I hear you've brought your officials here. You have been very busy, and we've come to know you very well. With the other trade agreements, you've been very gracious to be here any time we've needed you. So thank you for coming and I personally commend you for the team you're putting together for these future negotiations.
So without further ado, Minister, welcome. You have the floor.
Thank you very much, Mark, and I'd really like to thank the whole committee for being here. As Mark said, a Monday in the middle of August is not generally a time when intense committee hearings are held, and the fact that you've brought us together here I take as a sign of your really hard work and the real commitment that every member of this committee has to a great outcome for your constituents and Canadians in these talks. It's a privilege and an honour for me to be here to speak to you, and I want to thank everyone who is here. As Mark has pointed out, it's a pretty full room for a summertime committee meeting, which I also think speaks to how consequential these talks are for Canadians.
I'd like to make some opening remarks, and then I'd be happy to answer your questions.
I'd like to start by acknowledging that we're gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin.
Trade is about people. It's about creating the best possible conditions for growth, jobs, and prosperity for individuals and working families. That is why we are modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA. That is why we are seizing this opportunity to make what is already a good agreement, even better. The North American free trade area is now the biggest economic zone in the world. Together, Canada, the United States, and Mexico account for a quarter of the world's GDP, with just 7% of its population.
Since 1994, trade among NAFTA partners has roughly tripled, making this a $19-trillion regional market representing 470 million consumers. Thanks to NAFTA, Canada's economy is 2.5% larger than it would otherwise be. It's as though Canada has been receiving a $20-billion cheque every year since NAFTA was ratified. Thanks to NAFTA, North America's economy is highly integrated, making our companies more competitive in the global marketplace and creating more jobs on our continent.
These historic NAFTA negotiations are to begin in two days. We're keen to get to work, not least because we know that uncertainty is never good for our economy.
At every opportunity we've explained to our southern friends—and many of you have been part of that effort—that Canada is the largest export market for two-thirds of U.S. states, and America's biggest overall customer by far. Indeed, Canada buys more from the U.S. than China, the U.K., and Japan combined. I think quite a few of us have uttered that sentence in recent months.
Our American partners have been listening. Today they understand, as we do, that our relationship, the greatest economic partnership in the world, is balanced and mutually beneficial. To wit, in 2016 Canada and the United States traded $635.1 billion U.S. in goods and services. That exchange was almost perfectly reciprocal. In fact, the United States ran a slight surplus with us of $8.1 billion U.S.—less than 1.5% of our total trade. So it's very, very balanced.
We've also been working energetically with our Mexican friends. I'd like to welcome the Mexican ambassador, my friend Dionisio, whose birthday we celebrated at lunch in Mexico City, together with the foreign minister and Minister of Economy and trade. The relationship has, of course, also included regular conversations between and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Most importantly, we have been listening to Canadians. As of today, we have sought and received more than 21,000 submissions of Canadians' views and concerns about NAFTA. That includes contributions from 16 academics and think tanks, 158 associations, and 55 businesses and corporations.
The Canadian objectives I will now outline are built on these extensive consultations. This process is just beginning. Our negotiations with our NAFTA partners will be informed by continuous consultations with Canadians.
Here are some of Canada's core objectives.
First, we aim to modernize NAFTA. The agreement is 23 years old. The global, North American, and Canadian economies have been transformed in that time by the technology revolution. NAFTA needs to address this in a way that will ensures that we will continue to have a vibrant and internationally competitive technology sector and that all sectors of our economy can reap the full benefits of the digital revolution.
Second, NAFTA should be made more progressive. We will be informed here by the ideas in CETA, the most progressive trade deal in history, launched by Conservatives and completed, proudly, by our government.
In particular, we can make NAFTA more progressive, first, by bringing strong labour safeguards into the core of the agreement; second, by integrating enhanced environmental provisions to ensure no NAFTA country weakens environmental protection to attract investment, for example, and to fully support efforts to address climate change; third, by adding a new chapter on gender rights, in keeping with our commitment to gender equality; fourth, by adding an indigenous chapter, in line with our commitment to improving our relationship with indigenous peoples; and, finally, by reforming the investor-state dispute settlement process, to ensure that governments have an unassailable right to regulate in the public interest.
One reason that these progressive elements are so important, in particular with respect to the environment and labour, is that they are how we guarantee that the modernized NAFTA will be not only an exemplary free trade deal, but also a fair trade deal. Canadians broadly support free trade. Their enthusiasm wavers, however, when trade agreements put our workers at an unfair disadvantage because of the high standards that we rightly demand. Instead, we must pursue progressive trade agreements that benefit all sides and help workers both at home and abroad enjoy higher wages and better conditions.
Third, this negotiation is a valuable opportunity to make life easier for business people on both sides of the border by cutting red tape and harmonizing regulations. We share the U.S. administration's desire to free our companies from needless bureaucracy, and this negotiation is a welcome chance to act on that goal.
Fourth, Canada will seek a freer market for government procurement, a significant accomplishment in CETA. Local-content provisions for major government contracts are political junk food, superficially appetizing, but unhealthy in the long run. Procurement liberalization can go hand in hand with further regulatory harmonization.
Fifth, we want to make the movement of professionals easier, which is increasingly critical to companies' ability to innovate across blended supply chains. NAFTA's chapter 16, which addresses temporary entry for business people, should be renewed and expanded to reflect the needs of our businesses. Here again, CETA provides a model.
Sixth, Canada will uphold and preserve elements in NAFTA that Canadians deem key to our national interest, including a process to ensure that anti-dumping and countervailing duties are only applied fairly when truly warranted; the exception in the agreement to preserve Canadian culture; and Canada's system of supply management.
In all of these discussions, we will come to the table with goodwill and Canada's characteristic ability and willingness to seek compromise and find win-win solutions. But we are committed to a good deal, not just any deal.
So, I would like to say to Canadians today what I will say to our negotiating partners on Wednesday: Our approach in these talks will be in keeping with our national character, hard-working, fact-based, cordial, and guided by the spirit of goodwill and the pursuit of compromise. We also know that there is no contradiction between being polite and being strong. It is no accident that hockey is our national sport.
These negotiations are a deeply serious and profoundly consequential moment for all of us. Trade deals always matter. Done right, they are a vehicle for helping to create more well-paid jobs for the middle class.
Preparing for these negotiations has already united us as a country. I've been astounded and moved by the extremely high level of support and collaboration I and my team have received from business, from labour, from civil society, from every level of government, and from many of you around this table even though we are not all members of the same political party. Time and again Canadians across the country have told me how proud they are to be Canadian at this moment in time and how committed they are to doing everything they can do to help in these consequential negotiations.
Our bipartisan NAFTA Council is evidence of this, and all Canadians are truly fortunate that in these talks we will be represented by the best trade negotiators in the world. Canada's trade officials are internationally renowned for their prowess, and it is a privilege for me to work with this outstanding team of Canadian public servants. Let me take this moment to acknowledge the great Canadians who are sitting alongside me and with whom the committee will have a chance to speak directly later on: Tim Sargent, our deputy minister for trade; Steve Verheul, our chief negotiator for CETA, who is very familiar to many people in this room; and Martin Moen, who is also working very hard on the softwood file in his spare time.
As I said, these talks are profoundly consequential. There may be some dramatic moments ahead, yet I am deeply optimistic about the final outcome.
That is due to this fundamental reality: the Canada-U.S. economic relationship is the most significant, mutually beneficial, and effective anywhere in the world. We know that, and our American neighbours know it too.
Based on those very strong economic fundamentals, I am essentially optimistic going into these negotiations. Together with this fantastic team of trade negotiators, we're going to work very hard and we're going to get a great deal for Canadians.
Thank you, and I'm happy now to take your questions.
I appreciate your comments about keeping things tight. I'll do the best I can, but five minutes, with such a big topic....
The first thing, Minister, is that I want to compliment you. You put together a good team, with Steve Verheul and Martin and Tim. Putting Kirsten Hillman in the U.S., I think, has been a wise move and shows that we're focused on the file. So I can compliment you on that.
The second thing I also want to talk about is how we've been working together to make sure that the U.S. understands how important this relationship is and how all that has gone. I think the Americans now—at the governor level for sure—definitely understand what's at stake. I think after Trump gave his second notice of cancelling NAFTA that all of a sudden the business community, both in Canada and in the U.S., woke up and said, “Wait a minute, there's something very serious going on here.” That's what makes this so different from any other trade deal. This is a renegotiation. I think you comprehend the fact that this is the type of situation in which, if we don't get it right, things will actually go backwards instead of moving forward. I think what's concerning the business community is how we move forward.
I think I'm going to get a little bit into the process of consultations, what we're doing to make sure that we've consulted properly and that we're properly prepared, and then look at what we are doing while the negotiations are ongoing to make sure that we keep people actively informed on what is happening and what things are playing.
Then, Minister, I'd like to have some idea of the outcomes. What do we expect to achieve at the very end for the business community, so that when they look forward they can say, “You know what, after this deal is done, Canada is now even more competitive in the global marketplace and Canada is even better positioned to do more exports around the world because we've put everything together in a good NAFTA agreement”?
Five minutes is tight, so it will have to be very quick, and then I have a few more questions I'll ask later. Let's start off with the process. How are you going to interact with this council? How are businesses and other groups going to be able to interact with the negotiators while the negotiations are ongoing?
Thank you very much, Randy, for that, as usual, highly informed question.
I do want to start by thanking you personally for your work, and also thanking parties on the other side of the House. I really am grateful for the way that, particularly south of the border, we've been working together to advance Canadian national interests. I'm glad that you share with me acknowledging the excellence of our negotiators. It's true also that having Kirsten Hillman in Washington is an advantage. I'm not going to claim any credit for the excellence of our public service, particularly in that space.
I know that Gerry, sitting next to you, interacted a lot with Steve as agriculture minister.
I believe, Gerry, you won't contradict me when I say that we share—well, you might on some things—the highest regard for our trade negotiators. It's really, really important.
I just also want to pause on one thing that you mentioned, Randy, that I agree with very strongly. One of the particular aspects of this negotiation that is different from previous big deals Canada has been involved in is that it is not a greenfield negotiation. In a greenfield trade agreement, of course you want it to work because it has the possibility of bringing great benefit to Canadians. But as I said in my remarks this morning, this is more like renovating a house that you're still living in. That makes it a really delicate operation. A great deal of our economy is based on the existing NAFTA, and that is something that we heard in our consultations leading up to this moment. Canadians are very aware of that, and I want to assure the committee that I and the team are very aware of the delicacy of what we are engaged in.
You asked about the consultations, so let me start by saying that we've been focused on two things. One is working hard with our partners and raising their awareness.
We've been working hard with our Mexican partners, and I thank you, Dionisio, for being here. We've been focused very particularly on outreach to the U.S., which you've been a part of.
I just want to remind people that we've had 185 visits to the U.S. We've reached 300 U.S. decision-makers, 200 members of Congress, 50 governors and lieutenant-governors. On our outreach to Canadians, we've had more than 22,500 submissions from Canadians, as well as contributions from academics, think tanks, 158 associations, and 55 corporations.
As I said in my remarks earlier today, our intention is that the consultation with Canadians will be ongoing throughout the talks. The model here is very much like that for CETA, and that's why I'm turning to Steve. I think the CETA effort has an unprecedented number of stakeholder tables and ongoing consultations, and we're going to continue with that practice. Let me say that in those consultations, labour, environment, indigenous groups, and women will very much be included. I think people are aware of the NAFTA Council that we have set up.
Thank you very much for the question.
All of us have a stake in trade and a great trading relationship with the United States, but for your New Brunswick constituency, I think the relationship is particularly engaged and important. The relationship between New Brunswick and Maine is absolutely essential. You know that 38,500 Maine jobs depend directly on trade with Canada, and Canada by far is Maine's largest export market.
As we're talking about the New Brunswick-Maine relationship, I do want to offer a particular shout-out to Governor LePage of Maine. I have been in close contact with him. I often speak with him on the phone. He is an influential voice in this administration and understands very, very well the intense and interconnected relationship between Maine and Canada. He understands it in detail. He happens to have a personal background in the forestry sector that really informs his point of view in a very useful way, and I have found him to be a fantastic advocate of the relationship and its importance for Maine. I have also found him, not solely in conversation with him but also in his advocacy in Washington, to be very good at explaining a key element of our economic relationship with the United States, which is that we build things together. That is a key element that can sometimes be missed. People can think of trade as something simply being made in one country and sold to another, but the Canadian and U.S. economies are so closely integrated that we actually make things together. An input is produced in Canada and sold to the United States. More work is done on that input. It goes across the border, and that happens over and over and over again in the course of the creation of so many products. We're familiar with that from the auto industry, from manufacturing, but it's also very true in New Brunswick's trade with the United States.
That is why your question is so important, because something that we have done successfully is to make it possible for us to have that kind of a closely integrated and very effective commercial relationship. A core objective for Canada is not only to maintain that relationship, but as I said in my remarks, to also use this negotiation as a real opportunity to make that kind of work even easier.
One of the things we have heard again and again in our consultations, including when I was in Edmonton on Friday speaking to people from the agricultural sector, is that cutting red tape and making it easier to trade is something that Canadians really really see as a concrete and useful outcome. Indeed, one useful thing that we have heard repeatedly from this U.S. administration, both in direct conversations and publicly, is the real desire to cut red tape to make it easier for businesses to do business.
I think that cutting red tape and making our economic connection even easier is going to be one of our chief goals and is something that Canadians across the country, very much including New Brunswick, are very keen for us to achieve.
I'd like to thank you for your work, Ms. Lapointe, as well as your question, which is a very important one.
Not only are the provinces and territories involved in the NAFTA negotiations, but they are also at the centre of our trade relationship with the United States. As everyone knows, a number of issues and challenges affect the Canada-U.S. relationship. We continue to work closely with our provincial and territorial friends and counterparts.
As you highlighted, Quebec has a special role to play given its extensive relationship with the United States and Quebec's importance to the U.S. On that point, I have told the U.S. administration on numerous occasions that the electricity for Trump Tower is supplied by Quebec. It's key that our American counterparts never forget the importance of those economic ties.
As I mentioned, we consulted Canadians quite widely, including the provinces and territories, and those consultations will continue throughout the negotiation process. The CETA negotiations proved that Canada was stronger when the provinces, territories, municipalities, and federal government all worked together. The strongest team we can have is one that truly represents Canada.
Quebec played a special and very key role during the CETA negotiations, and, once again, I want to thank the province for that. On Thursday, I discussed NAFTA with my provincial and territorial counterparts, highlighting the federal government's approach and our desire for continued co-operation. Many provinces and territories are sending their experts and officials to Washington for the first round of negotiations, and that will be incredibly beneficial.
Mr. Hoback indicated that state governors play a very significant role and have a lot to bring to the table. I feel the same way. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that governors have a solid grasp of the economy because they are closer to the day-to-day reality in the country.
Thank you very much for the question, Peter, and for your very hard work on this file.
I strongly agree with the direction of your question. I also represent a diverse riding, as, I'm sure, many of us do. My riding in particular has very strong Portuguese and Italian communities, and there's been a lot of enthusiasm around CETA, which is going to enter into force on September 21, and we're so happy about that. It presents real opportunities for those communities in Canada to build even closer relationships with the communities in the countries they have come from, and also to use their cultural ties to build some economic benefit for both the EU and Canada.
I really agree with you that our relationship with the U.S. presents many opportunities of a very similar nature. When I am speaking to Americans, I like to say that we're not just friends and neighbours but that so many of us are relatives. It's hard to find a Canadian—and in some of the border areas of the U.S., it's hard to find an American—who doesn't have a close personal human connection with Canada. I think that's one of the reasons that our trading relationship has over time been so strong and so effective.
The former U.S. ambassador to Canada liked to tell a story about how when he travelled around Canada he would say, “So, do you guys do a lot of foreign trade with companies?”, and they would say, “Oh no, we only trade with the United States.” I think that anecdote tells a lot about how Canadians view trade with our biggest trading partner and neighbour.
When it comes to opportunities, you referred specifically to small and medium-sized enterprises. I think that is an important area to focus on. In the consultations I've personally done—and I know my negotiators have had the same experience—including in Edmonton on Friday, I have heard the same message that for those enterprises the red tape is a particular obstacle. We've even heard from people who have said they don't bother using the NAFTA preferences because it's so much of a hassle to fill out all the forms. One of our core objectives—and I think this has particular relevance for small and medium-sized businesses—will be to use these negotiations to cut red tape, to continue the really good work we've already been doing on harmonizing regulations, and to make this trading relationship even more frictionless.
Again here, I do want to emphasize that we see some real opportunity here in our negotiating approach, because this is really consistent with something we have heard in public and in private from this U.S. administration, which is that it is focused on cutting red tape and on making life easier for businesses, and that this is an opportunity for it to do just that.
When I was with the in Rhode Island at the governors' meeting, there was a lot of emphasis from the governors on exactly that point. They said, “Let's use this as a big opportunity to cut red tape to make things easier for businesses.”
I think Mark wants me to stop talking now.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Thank you for the question, Kyle.
You're absolutely right that the auto sector, which is so important for your constituency, is important for all of Canada. The concerns of the auto sector, including those of car parts manufacturers like NAPA, and those of labour, are an absolute priority for us in our NAFTA negotiations.
I want to make one other point, because Gerry asked me about softwood lumber and I didn't have enough time to answer. I'll just say quickly on softwood that I do want to highlight what an engaged partner Wilbur Ross has been in those conversations. He has really gotten immersed in the detail of the file, has really been personally involved, and I really appreciate that.
On autos, we are consulting very actively and energetically, and are going to continue those consultations as the negotiations progress. We are talking to the big auto companies. We're talking to the car parts suppliers at multiple levels. As you know, it's a really complicated industry. I'm very pleased that Linda is serving on our council, and also, a really important piece for us is talking to labour. Labour understands the auto parts sector very well and has an important perspective.
One of the incredibly important things that our auto sector brings to the NAFTA conversation and that will be an issue that Canada will keep bringing up at the negotiating table is the extent to which our trade with the United States is really integrated and sophisticated. Flavio Volpe likes to say that we make things together. Don Walker likes to say that too about Magna, right? And that is really the point, that our relationship, particularly in a complex and highly integrated sector like auto parts, is really all about a highly integrated sector that works. One of the things that we are really going to focus on in the negotiations is being aware of the complexity of that economic relationship and ensuring that is reflected in the negotiations. We're going to work hard to make the trade there even easier.
There's something else for which I do want to really thank all the Canadians who work in the auto sector. Randy spoke right at the beginning about the work we have all been doing in reaching out to our partners and colleagues south of the border. That has also been a sector-to-sector outreach, and I think some of the most effective conversations that have been happening to date have been between Canadians and Americans who build things together. People in the auto sector have been particularly effective in having that dialogue and in ensuring that their American partners are fully aware of how important NAFTA is as a foundation for that very effective, integrated economic relationship.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
Minister, we've been here long enough to know that it's really these guys that do the negotiating. It's our job, as legislators, as parliamentarians, to make sure that our priorities are stressed to our excellent bureaucrats that you've mentioned. I have three questions, and one sub-question. These questions are ones that I would think you, as the minister, would tell your negotiators going into the negotiations, “Listen, whatever you do, make sure this, this, and that gets done”.
I don't think we got a really clear answer on the dairy issue, so my first question is this. Will you trade away any access to the dairy sector, and will farmers be at the negotiating table with you, or with the negotiators when they're there?
Second—and these are questions that are pertinent to my part of the country in Chatham-Kent—Leamington—will you maintain the flexibility of container sizes in our processing industry? That is very important to us as well.
Third, will you consider the impact that decisions like the carbon tax will have on industries like the greenhouse industry in my riding?
Fourth, and I know this isn't part of the trade negotiation, but in your capacity as minister, will you continue to insist that the bridge gets built? We can do all the great trade deals we want in this place, but if we don't have access for our market....That has got be built.
Could you just address those four things? Thank you.
Thank you for the question.
First, I'd like to underscore something the chair said. Of course, talks with the Americans are a government responsibility, but that responsibility also falls on Parliament and all of its members. I know that the committee members have already done a lot of work on this issue, and I'd like to thank you for that. I'd also like to point out, however, that that is just the beginning. We still have a tremendous amount of work to do.
As you know, the legislative process in the U.S. is absolutely critical during trade deal negotiations, and you, as members of Parliament, have a unique and important relationship with your American counterparts. I want to thank you for all your efforts so far and urge you to keep them up. This is just the beginning. We have a long road ahead.
You asked about the work that had begun in January. Having already spoken at length about the consultations, I'd like to point something else out: our work did not start in January or February but, rather, last summer, before the U.S. elections.
As Minister of International Trade, I had asked department officials to put together materials on NAFTA. We saw that NAFTA had become an election issue during the campaign in the U.S. I want to make that clear because I think it's important for Canadians to know just how much Canada has been preparing. We've been at it for over a year. For me, negotiations have always been like exams: preparation is the most important thing. I want to thank our officials for the work they started more than a year ago.
I'd also like to make another point about our discussions with the Americans. I think that we, as Canadians, understand how the U.S. system works better than anyone, aside from the Americans themselves.
Okay, that's it, sorry.
I have just one last thing to say.
We realize that it is not just relationships with Washington or the White House, with the president and members of cabinet, that matter. While those relationships are indeed essential, those at other levels are important as well. The entire Canadian team, which includes our companies, has endeavoured to work with their U.S. counterparts at all levels, and that is extremely important.