Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
This is meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade. The committee is meeting today, pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), as requested by four members of the committee, to discuss their request to undertake a study of the impact on Canada of the European Union transparency and authorization mechanisms for exports of COVID-19 vaccines.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
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To the motion that we have on the floor—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good morning and, I guess, good afternoon to everyone, to the vice-chairs and of course to all the members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss the steps our government is taking to ensure that critical vaccine supply chains remain open and resilient.
Madam Chair, securing timely and adequate supplies of COVID-19 vaccines for Canadians is our government's highest priority. We knew that vaccines would be vital to ending this pandemic and that is why Canada has seven vaccine procurement contracts covering the largest number of vaccine doses of any country in the world. Our government has diligently sourced vaccines manufactured in both Europe and the United States, countries with whom we have strong free trade agreements, to mitigate against any export restrictions or other potential disruptions.
On January 29, the European Commission brought into force a temporary transparency and authorization mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines. Under this regulation, exporters require authorization before they ship their COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that advance purchase agreements with the European member states are being respected.
As soon as we learned about the forthcoming measure earlier last week, I immediately reached out to my counterpart, the European Union trade commissioner and executive vice-president, Valdis Dombrovskis. In that conversation on Thursday before the EU made their announcement, I pressed Canada's continued expectation that this mechanism not have an impact on Canada's shipment of vaccines. I reiterated that Canada has advance purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers in Europe, and we expect those agreements to be respected.
Vice-President Dombrovskis provided strong reassurances that this mechanism will not delay vaccine shipments to Canada, and we both committed to continuing our work together as we have since the beginning of the pandemic.
Last week, also spoke with the president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, and received the same reassurances that our vaccine shipments would not be affected. I had a second conversation this past Saturday with Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis once the EU measure was officially announced. Once again, he assured me that the EU's measure would not have an impact on Canada's vaccines, and that we once again reaffirmed our commitment to continue working together.
Yesterday, spoke with the European commissioner for health and food safety, and she also received clear assurances that the EU mechanism would not affect shipments of vaccines to Canada. In addition to this, will be speaking to his European Commission counterpart later this week, and is in constant contact with suppliers.
Given that we have vaccine shipments coming from Belgium, I also reached out to my Belgian counterpart, deputy prime minister of Belgium, Sophie Wilmès, and spoke with her yesterday afternoon. Deputy Prime Minister Wilmès also provided me with clear and explicit assurances that Canada will not be affected by this mechanism.
Let me be crystal clear. Canada has expressed our continued expectation that this mechanism will not impact Canada's vaccine shipments, and we have received repeated reassurances that shipments of vaccines to Canada will not be affected.
This is an urgent matter that we take seriously. Our government's top priority is to ensure that vaccines are distributed so that all Canadians have immediate access to safe and free vaccines.
Our heads of missions abroad have also been proactively engaging with decision-makers in the European Commission and key member states to ensure that there are no inadvertent impacts on Canada's shipments. In every interaction, our counterparts have confirmed that there is no intention to do so.
As a result of Canadian interventions from ministers and our diplomatic posts, there are efforts under way to streamline the process for Canada's shipments this coming week. From the beginning of the shipment process—prior to the introduction of this mechanism—our European posts have been working diligently with Canada's suppliers on the management of orders and other logistical issues to ensure that Canadians are able to access COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.
Canada's diplomatic network across Europe is also keeping close track of how European Union member-state governments are carrying out their obligations under the mechanism. We understand that one motivation for the EU-wide mechanism was to pre-empt any local or national measures, making it even more clear that this will not affect—and it was not intended to affect—Canadian shipments of the vaccine.
We are taking a whole-of-government approach to this important issue, as we have done with the entire pandemic, engaging with the EU and member states at every level to ensure that Canadian vaccine shipments will not be impacted and that Canadians will have access to safe and free vaccines. We're also analyzing and monitoring the mechanism to ensure that the EU respects its trade obligations under the World Trade Organization rules. The specifics of how a measure is implemented are also important. We are looking closely at how the EU is implementing the new measure, and we'll continue to monitor to ensure that the mechanism is applied on a non-discriminatory basis as required by international trade rules.
The European Union is a trusted partner of Canada. We share close people-to-people ties, as well as a robust free trade agreement. Canada will continue to expect that the European Commission's mechanism will not affect Canadian vaccine shipments and that we will continue to work with the European Union with fairness and transparency, including in our work of promoting rules-based international trade.
Since 2018, Canada has led the Ottawa Group on WTO reform, working with like-minded international partners, including the EU. We have made progress on multilateral, rules-based trading, and we are collaborating with like-minded partners to encourage all WTO members to resolve the appellate body impasse. When the pandemic arose, the world saw 97 countries respond to COVID-19 by implementing more than 220 restrictions on cross-border trade. Canada and the Ottawa Group members continue to do their work to strengthen supply chains and to reduce COVID-related barriers to trade. Today, only 138 of those restrictions remain in place, and the work continues.
Canada and the European Union have jointly championed the WTO trade and health initiative, which calls for no new, unjustified export restrictions on medical goods, including vaccines. Canada will also continue to leverage its leadership role within the WTO, the G20 and the G7 to promote universal access to vaccines. We will continue to work with all countries towards ensuring that responses to COVID-19 do not impose unjustified or harmful burdens, and to support equitable access to vaccines.
We know that COVID-19 has no borders. It is a global problem that needs global solutions. Both Canada and the EU know that we can only successfully fight this global pandemic when everyone has equitable access to vaccines. As long as one country is at risk, we're all at risk. Since the beginning of this pandemic, our government has been committed to a strong global effort to stop COVID-19 and to address its devastating health, social and economic impacts on Canadians and people around the world.
Securing a safe and effective vaccine for Canadians is the number one priority for this government. Canada will work steadfastly with our trade partners and will continue to strengthen and protect global supply chains.
If there's one thing we want Canadians to know, it is this: We are on top of this. We're always operating with urgency on anything concerning Canadians' getting vaccines rapidly. Ensuring supply chains stay open and resilient means a flow of food and medicines so that businesses can open again, kids can safely go to school, families can gather and both our society and economy can recover and thrive into the future.
We understand that Canadians are concerned and we are working hard to ensure access to these life-saving vaccines as quickly as possible.
Our government is operating with this sense of urgency every single day.
With that, I will now answer any questions you have for me.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, as you know, some of us have been elected for many terms, and I've been on the international trade committee almost every term. I can tell you, Ms. Ng, that you are one of the best to appear on very short notice, and I want to thank you for being accessible.
Minister Ng, it's my understanding that 1.1 million vaccine doses have been distributed across Canada to date, and that not only is Canada among the top five G20 nations for COVID-19 vaccinations, but we are also in the top two contributors to Covax to ensure equitable access to vaccines around the world. Even if no additional vaccines are approved by Health Canada, the recently announced that Canada is expected to receive two million doses of Moderna and four million doses of Pfizer by the end of March.
Could you please elaborate on that and on whether we expect to receive the six million doses within the next two months? Also, it's good to know from you for my constituents—and I would also like to thank you—that the shipments of vaccines will not be affected by this EU mechanism.
I want to thank the honourable member for that question. Being accessible and transparent and having the opportunity to speak directly to Canadians through this committee is absolutely important.
I very much appreciate the invitation that I received on this very important issue. I know how urgent this matter is for Canadians, and we are seized with it, which is why you heard me talk about how we are on top of it and we intend to stay on top of it, and how serious it is for me and for my colleagues and the to ensure that there is no disruption in the shipment of vaccines to Canada. Those are the reassurances that I have received directly from the executive vice-president, from Trade Commissioner Dombrovskis in the EU, but has also received similar assurances from the commissioner of health in the EU, and the Prime Minister has as well, from the EU president.
The honourable member also talked about the number of vaccines and what we expect. We are expecting to be on track to receive the six million doses of vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna. We expect that we will be able to vaccinate three million Canadians by the end of Q1 just with those vaccines that are approved right now.
As my colleagues have shared publicly before, Canada has procured a robust portfolio of vaccines for Canadians, and absolutely, we all agree—the EU and Canada—that COVID-19 has no borders and that we all need to work together to fight COVID-19 and to make sure that people around the world also have access to vaccines.
We're going to continue to work on this. We must continue to work on this. I want to assure you that it is absolutely my top priority to stay on top of this and to work on ensuring that the vaccines we get from the European Union are not disrupted through this mechanism and make their way here to Canada for Canadians.
Madam Chair, thank you for giving me the floor.
Good morning, Madam Minister. Thank you for being here. Hello to my colleagues also.
Let's come back to the issue of vaccines. As everyone knows, no vaccine was received last week, and no further deliveries are planned either. The Pfizer plant in Europe has been experiencing problems, but we could not turn to the Pfizer plant in the U.S. because the former U.S. Trump administration passed an executive order for priority distribution of these vaccines to Americans.
Now there is a new President of the United States. His first call as president was to the Prime Minister of Canada to announce, among other things, that the Buy American Act would be strengthened and that there would be no Keystone XL oil pipeline. For the Prime Minister of Canada, these are two failures.
To your knowledge, has there been any discussion in this negotiation of requiring, in exchange, as a minimum, an exception in the supply of vaccines, at least during the short period when Europe will not be able to supply Canada?
Thank you in advance for your response.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to begin by thanking the clerk and all the officials who were available over the weekend to respond quickly and to organize this session with the minister.
I would also like to thank the minister for making herself available. I know that she had to move many important discussions in her schedule in order to make time for the committee and respond to questions from committee members. I also know that she feels it is important to come to committee and respond to our questions. I thank her for that.
Picking up on the conversation we were having a moment ago with respect to advance purchase agreements, I would like to point out that it is my understanding, from the text of the EU regulation, that the European Commission is mindful that advance purchase agreements contracted by third parties, including Canada, need to be respected and that they will work to ensure the expectations of all countries, including Canada, to obtain other deliveries will be met.
I wonder if you could speak a little more to that, Minister, and particularly the work of our government to conclude, many months ago now, many different contracts with, I believe, over seven different suppliers and how that put us on a solid footing to continue to engage with our allies and ensure that there are no disruptions to our shipments of vaccines for Canadians.
I want to thank the honourable member for that question. Maybe I'll start answering where she left off.
We understand—and we share this with everybody on all sides of the House—the absolute urgency for Canadians to have access to life-saving vaccines and to make sure that they are readily available. This is the sense of urgency the government works with every single day, including me, all of my colleagues and the .
With more than 1.1 million vaccines distributed across the country to date, Canada is among the top five G20 nations for COVID-19 vaccines. We are on track to receive six million vaccines by the end of Q1, 20 million between April and June, and a total of 70 million doses by the end of September. That is just with the approved vaccines alone. Our government continues to stay on top of this.
The advance purchase agreement is noted in the EU's announcement. The regulation is clear in respect of APAs that have already been contracted by third countries, such as Canada. In the conversation I had with my counterpart, on two occasions—as well as the with President von der Leyen, and the with the commissioner of health in the EU—we received repeated assurances that Canada's vaccine shipments will not be affected by this measure.
Having said that, we take this very seriously. We will continue to work on this here. The team Canada that is on the ground for the missions in Europe continues to work with the companies as well as the member states and the European Union to ensure there is no disruption.
But we're seeing that happen right now. This is a protectionist measure. Let's call it what it is. It can be done on two levels. It can be done at the EU level, it could be done at the U.S. level or a combination of both. The EU is very good at blaming one or the other. EU blames the U.S.; the U.S. blames the EU. In the meantime, we still don't get our vaccines. It comes back to my concern. What do we have for a mechanism to put pressure on the EU, and what do other countries have for a mechanism to put pressure on the EU that may cause it to react accordingly?
We're very vulnerable here unless we have some clear strategic plan for how we're going to react. It can't be just saying we're going to talk to somebody. We actually have to show some force here, possibly. Does that mean we pull out of NATO? Does that mean we draw a line in the sand? This is a protectionist measure, and this is really very serious.
I get very concerned, because I see these trade rules already coming under a tremendous amount of pressure. Now you're trying to say that diplomacy might have some influence. However, we're seeing the list for exempted countries, and we're not on that list. You won't tell us why we're not on that list, and the EU won't tell us why. That, to me, is a problem. Why did the EU single us out?
You say, it's not just us; it's the U.S. and Australia and other countries. The U.S. has production capacity and Australia has production capacity, but we don't. It is a lot more serious for us than it is for those countries. How do we know where we sit going forward?
You've highlighted absolutely the priority we are all placing on this.
Yes, I serve on the COVID-19 committee of cabinet. The purpose there, of course, is to enable us to work in a whole-of-government way. It's to enable me, in this particular circumstance, to work very closely with , who is in regular contact with the drug suppliers, but also with , who is working with top priority and urgency with provincial and territorial colleagues to make sure the vaccines are indeed making their way expeditiously, quickly and readily to Canadians.
There is nothing more important to all of us, on all sides of the House, than to fight COVID-19 and to be sure we are doing this using a team Canada approach, making sure that absolutely top of mind on the one hand is that emergency measures are there for Canadians and for businesses, and at the same time, making sure that vaccines come into the country and are deployed provincially.
There is nothing more important to Canadians than our government staying absolutely on top of this and working diligently and very hard, to the best of our ability, to make sure there is no delay.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
For over 30 years now, Liberals and Conservatives have taken arguments about the importance of trade between countries and lifted it up to a kind of blind article of faith that globalized trade is always the way to find a solution. I think the pandemic has really emphasized the inadequacy of relying solely on that dogma, if you will.
We're seeing it with respect to vaccines. We don't have domestic vaccine.... We do have some domestic vaccine production, but Canada doesn't seem to have secured the right to produce a vaccine here at home. We've heard that we have the capacity through the NRC to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, but we don't have the right.
We've seen it in other sectors. We have an airline industry that's in distress and we don't have any meaningful strategy for the airline industry here. It's all laissez-faire. On oil and gas, we've lost a lot of the value-added work over the last 20 or 30 years, and we focus only on extraction and then shipping the raw resource out of the country.
This, to me, seems to be a bit of the hens coming home to roost. We hear the minister and other MPs on the panel today talk about the importance of strengthening global supply chains, but all our partners, who have also engaged in this kind of globalized trade, have hedged their bets, have understood that they still need industrial planning at home, that they still need to identify priorities like vaccine production in the case of a crisis. Canada seems to be one of the few countries in the west that hasn't done any of that hedging.
I am wondering if the minister has learned any lessons about that blind faith in globalized trade and that approach to managing Canada's economy, making sure that for important strategic industries or things like vaccine production, we have a plan for how to look after ourselves instead of simply relying on the good faith of international partners, which we've seen can change very quickly in a crisis.
I want to thank the honourable member for that very important question. I'm not sure I can get in the full answer in the time I have, but let me give this a bit of a try.
I'm very proud to be part of a government where the trade agreements that are negotiated are inclusive. They are inclusive because the government believes, and I think the member opposite may agree, that where there is trade, the benefits of that trade must also accrue to workers and to people in those respective countries and certainly to Canadians—small and medium-sized businesses, indigenous entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, racialized entrepreneurs and new immigrant entrepreneurs. In the agreements that we have negotiated, whether it be the recent CUSMA, CPTPP or CETA, they have high standards that include particular chapters that have provisions for labour and provisions that protect the environment. I think it's absolutely important that we have the arrangements we do and are steadfast at being able to ensure that trade and the benefits of it accrue to all Canadians.
I want to thank the honourable member for the work he championed around greater transparency, particularly around sharing with Canadians, seeking input from Canadians and our colleagues, before we enter into an agreement. I'm going to be looking forward to doing that, probably with the first one coming up, which is with the United Kingdom. Suffice it to say that inclusive trade and ensuring that, as businesses grow, workers are part of that growth, and more people are able to access the benefits through the economy, is very, very much the work that I look forward to doing every single day in this portfolio.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
The minister has left, but I wanted to thank her and her colleagues for the excellent work that the government is doing in battling this pandemic. The people of Nepean and all Canadians appreciate the work that is being done. I hope the officials will convey my sincere thanks to the minister and her colleagues.
On the question of the vaccines, there has been talk about the written agreement and the verbal assurances. I'm glad that we have a written advance purchase agreement, as the minister said.
Before I go to that, there has been a suggestion, if I'm not mistaken, that we have to retaliate. I wish the officials recognized that starting a fight with retaliation does not lead to any solution. The way this has been handled diplomatically is the right way to go. I hope the government continues to act in this way.
As the minister mentioned, this is a global problem and we need to find global solutions. In particular, I would like to know what the Ottawa Group is doing to face this problem with the vaccine supply.