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View Omar Alghabra Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Omar Alghabra Profile
2020-03-10 10:10 [p.1844]
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this very important bill, Bill C-4, an act to implement the new North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, formally known as the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement. This agreement is extremely important to Canada, Canadian businesses and workers, and I can say, as a representative of a Mississauga riding, that the bill, this agreement, is very important for my constituents and the businesses in Mississauga.
Our government has embarked on a very aggressive trade agenda because trade is extremely important to Canadian businesses and workers. Members will be interested to know that one out of six jobs in Canada depends on trade. It is because our country produces some of the best products and services in the world, and the world needs more Canadian products and services. We know that with our agenda to grow and support the middle class and create more jobs for the middle class, we need to encourage Canadian businesses to trade, export and import more.
Our government maintained an aggressive trade agenda, and over the last few years we have signed and ratified CETA, a free trade agreement with the European Union, and the CPTPP, a free trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations. Today, Canada is the only G7 country that has a free trade agreement with all other G7 nations. This is a competitive advantage that our friends and competitors in the United States do not have. We have a great environment in Canada for businesses and workers to export our products and services around the world.
Over the last few years, after the U.S. election, President Trump has campaigned on the issue of revamping and reviewing NAFTA. Our government took that very seriously and engaged with the U.S. administration to make sure that we protect Canadian interests, particularly the interests of Canadian workers and businesses. Access to the United States market is extremely important for businesses. Every day, almost $2 billion of products and services cross the border into the United States, so we know how important maintaining access to U.S. customers and businesses is for our businesses and workers.
At a time of increased protectionism, when, as we all know, the U.S. administration was adamant about increasing protectionism and building barriers, it was very important for our government to protect the interests of Canadian businesses and workers. What did we do? We assembled a strong team of industry, labour and stakeholders, a team that transcended partisan lines, with representatives from different parties and groups, to make sure that a complete voice for Canadian businesses was at the table as we were negotiating and protecting Canadian interests.
Canadians will recall the process that we engaged in over the last few years. It was at times very difficult, as most trade negotiations are, and there were moments of challenges and difficulties. In assembling a great team, engaging the provinces, premiers, stakeholders, legislators in the House of Commons and senators, we took an excellent team Canada approach as we embarked on this negotiation process with the United States, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other ministers. We made sure that Canada's voice was strong and firm at the table, as we were very interested in maintaining access to Canadian businesses, markets and workers.
There were some challenges. As members may recall, there was a period when the U.S. administration imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian businesses. We were very firm and clear in our opposition to those tariffs. We fought very hard for businesses and workers to have those tariffs lifted. There was a regrettable time when some opposition voices were asking us to lift the countervailing duties that we had imposed on American products, but we knew it was the right thing for Canada. It was the right thing for Canadian interests.
The outcome of the negotiations was very good for Canada. We ensured that 99.9% of Canadian businesses, products and services maintained tariff-free access to U.S. markets. It was really important for business certainty, for business continuity and for workers to know that that access would be maintained.
For the automotive sector, we have increased the rules of origin to 75%, and that is good news for Canadian workers and businesses. We all know how important the auto sector is to the Canadian economy. It is very important for businesses in my riding of Mississauga Centre.
We have also preserved the state-to-state dispute resolution mechanism. That was something the U.S. administration was intent on removing, but we knew it was really important to continue to have an independent adjudicator for the dispute resolution mechanism, and we were able to preserve it.
We were also able to preserve the integrity of our supply management system. Again, the U.S. administration came to the table intent on completely dismantling our supply management system. However, we stood our ground. We stood firm behind our farmers and producers, and we protected the integrity of our supply management system.
We also preserved the cultural exemption that existed in NAFTA. That was very important for our cultural industries. Canada, compared to the United States, is a relatively small market, but we have our own unique identity. We have the unique identity of bilingualism and multiculturalism. We were able to protect an inclusion for our cultural industries, so that we could maintain our policies to nurture and support Canadian culture here at home.
We created provisions or chapters for rules of labour, for the environment and for making sure that we maintained our policies for reconciliation with indigenous peoples. We wanted to make sure that we retained sovereignty over our policies as we were embarking on this journey of reconciliation with our indigenous peoples.
The agreement preserved important access to the United States and Mexican markets. Today, businesses are seeing a lot of uncertainty, especially during this difficult time of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak around the world. It is very important for businesses that are investing in Canada, and for businesses that rely on access to the United States, that they know that access to the U.S. market is preserved and supported, and is there for the long term.
It is really important to thank all the stakeholders who were involved throughout this difficult and long journey to reach this agreement with our friends, the United States and Mexico.
It was important to have their voices at the table. It was important to have their insight at the table and our government made sure that we took their input into account.
I want to take a moment to thank our colleagues in the House, the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP, for offering support to help us ratify the bill in front of us today. It is a sign for all of Canada that we can set aside partisanship when we know that we are working on something that is in the interests of all Canadians and Canadian businesses. Even at a time when people are saying minority parliaments may be more difficult to work in, this is a great moment for all of Canada to see that we are able to set aside partisanship interests because we know what is in the interests of Canadians is in the interests of all parties in the House.
I am grateful to the Standing Committee on International Trade for doing its job in studying the bill. I know the members worked tirelessly around the clock to make sure that voices who wanted to offer their opinion on the bill were able to testify at committee. Experts were able to come and present their testimony before the committee. Members of the House who sat across from each other at the committee were able to work collaboratively and pass the bill at second reading and send it back to the House of Commons.
This is a moment for us to acknowledge that we are able to work together for the benefit of all Canadians. I look forward to our colleagues in the Senate studying the bill in an expedited fashion. I know they understand the importance of the bill. We know that our friends in the United States and Mexico have already ratified the agreement, so Canada is on its way to finalize the ratification process.
Businesses know that it is very important for them. It is very important to note that businesses are breathing a sigh of relief today when they see the House of Commons about to ratify this NAFTA and they are comforted by the fact that there are so many upgrades to this agreement that benefit them.
I talked about the protection for labour standards, environment, indigenous policies and cultural exemptions, and about increasing the rules of origin for our products. I also want to take a moment to recognize how we were able to deal with the steel and aluminum tariffs that were imposed on Canadian products by the United States.
We were able to stand firm. Today not only have we been able to lift those tariffs, but now we have a side letter with our friends in the United States that ensures that, if at any point in the future the United States decided to impose tariffs under the guise of national security, we were able to get Canadian businesses an exemption from those tariffs. Those exemptions are at a greater level than the levels of our current production and current exports to the United States. Not only were we able to lift those tariffs, but we were able to get guarantees and exemptions from the United States that if at any point in the future, for some reason or another the United States decided to impose those tariffs again, Canadian products and services from steel and aluminum will be exempted.
When we tabled Bill C-4, I know our friends in the NDP and the Bloc had some questions about the bill. I am happy to talk about the process of our discussions that took place, ensuring that we listened to their concerns and we found a way to address their questions so we could reach consensus on the bill.
Let me take a moment to thank my colleagues in the NDP. We were able to reach an agreement that, with future trade agreements, we will declare our intentions and objectives of those negotiations here in the House of Commons where all MPs and Canadians will see up front what the objectives of those negotiations are.
In discussions with the Bloc, we were able to come to an agreement that on behalf of Canadian workers and producers of steel and aluminum, Canada will work with our friends in the U.S. and Mexico to encourage them to implement some monitoring measures the way we have in Canada on the production of steel and aluminum.
This is a great example of how our government is able to work with the other parties in the House to respond to their needs and address their legitimate questions.
I know the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and entire government are all looking forward to ratifying this important legislation. It will mean stability and increased exports for our businesses and workers. It will mean increased and growing prosperity for the middle class. It will mean growing jobs for the middle class in Canada. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House of Commons for supporting us and I am looking forward to the debate.
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