Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to have the opportunity to speak to the new NAFTA for the second time in this House. I would like to discuss the benefits of the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement for all Canadians. Guided by Canada's inclusive approach to trade, we have worked very hard from the beginning of negotiations to secure outcomes that would advance the interests of the Canadian middle class, small and medium-sized enterprises, women, indigenous peoples, and also to protect our most vulnerable residents.
Historically, Canada has always been a trading nation. Canadian exports account for nearly one-third of our GDP. Imports help meet the needs of both Canadian businesses and consumers, providing both variety in consumer products and important inputs for industry. Canada has productive trading relationships with much of the world. Our government is working hard to support trade diversification and to have new and expanding markets.
However, the United States is still our closest and largest trading partner, and the vast majority of goods that cross our common border do so tariff-free. Every day, $2.7 billion in trade and roughly 385,000 people cross the border between Canada and the United States. This exchange of goods, services and investments supports Canadian jobs, businesses and communities. Our close relationship underpins the prosperity of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Our focus from the outset of negotiations was to preserve middle-class jobs and foster economic growth. Small and medium-sized businesses, or SMEs, are the backbone of the Canadian economy, employing nearly 10.7 million Canadians in 2018. This represents about 90% of the private sector labour force.
Among Canadian firms that exported goods to the United States, 96.2% were small and medium-sized businesses, which together accounted for over $145 billion in exports. Among those that exported goods to Mexico the same year, just over 88% were small and medium-sized firms, which accounted for a total value of $2.6 billion in exports.
The new NAFTA would preserve Canada's tariff-free access to our most important market. This is vital for our SMEs that rely on North America's integrated supply chains and its almost 490 million customers. By preserving this important tariff-free access, the agreement provides predictability and stability for those nearly 10.7 million Canadians employed by SMEs that depend on trade. This enables SMEs to continue to strive and to contribute to the Canadian economy in communities right across this country.
The agreement also preserves the NAFTA binational panel dispute settlement mechanism, retaining our access to an independent and impartial process to challenge anti-dumping and countervailing duties. This has been particularly important to Canadian companies producing softwood lumber products for export to the United States and the 187,000 workers in the forestry sector. As somebody who is from the northern region of Nova Scotia, I see the effects of this in my riding.
While softwood lumber continues to benefit from duty-free treatment under the new NAFTA, we recognize there is a long history of the U.S. industry bringing forward anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations against Canadian softwood lumber products. Our success in maintaining the dispute settlement mechanism means that Canada could continue to bring challenges against any unwarranted or unfair duties in order to seek their removal and the reimbursement to Canadian exporters of duties that have been paid.
I am very glad to also see this new agreement preserves the general exception for our cultural industries, which employ over 665,000 people across the country.
Our creative economy is so important. Going forward with the green economy and the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, it helps us to create content that will be seen all around the world and really show off our country. Our success in maintaining the dispute settlement mechanism means that we can continue to challenge any of these unwarranted examples and challenges to our cultural industries as well. They are integral to our linguistic and cultural identity and they ensure our capacity as Canadians to be able to tell our own stories.
One of Canada's goals is to better reflect the trade interests of indigenous peoples in trade negotiations. To that end, the Government of Canada undertook extensive engagement with indigenous leaders, representatives, proprietors of indigenous-owned businesses and policy experts to better understand their trade interests and to seek input on priorities for the negotiations.
We have also retained policy flexibility to provide preferential treatment for indigenous peoples and indigenous-owned businesses, including in the areas of services, investment, government procurement, environment and state-owned enterprises. This means that Canada will maintain its ability to create procurement programs that support small and minority-owned businesses, including indigenous-owned businesses.
The new agreement will support all Canadian businesses, including SMEs, by ensuring continued access to the U.S. and Mexican markets. It will update the rules of trade within North America, making it easier for Canadian companies to do business, including through streamlined customs and origin procedures and greater transparency in government regulations in a wide range of sectors. For instance, new customs and trade facilitation measures will make it easier for companies to move goods across the border, including reducing paper processes and providing a single portal to submit import documentation electronically.
SMEs stand to benefit to a greater extent from such measures, as they may not have the same resources as larger firms and they have to address challenges when operating across borders. Improvements made on dispute settlement, including labour rights, will also be very important for our SMEs, as it will help ensure effective implementation of the agreement and a more level playing field. This way, SMEs may find themselves to be more competitive and have market opportunities that were not accessible to them under NAFTA.
The new NAFTA also includes a chapter on SMEs that will foster co-operation among the parties in order to increase trade and investment opportunities. This includes capacity building and promotion activities to support SMEs owned by under-represented groups. The agreement recognizes that these groups may benefit from strengthened collaboration on SME promotion activities designed to increase their participation in international trade.
The agreement includes requirements to make information available for SMEs that is specifically tailored for their interests, including information on entrepreneurship, education programs for youth and under-represented groups, as well as information on obligations in the agreement that are particularly relevant to SMEs.
The agreement establishes an annual trilateral dialogue, which provides SMEs with an opportunity to collaborate in addressing any issue that could impact them in the future. The dialogue enables participation of representatives from private sector employees, non-government organizations, unions and other experts, thus ensuring diverse perspectives, which is so important on issues related to the agreement that are relevant to SMEs. By doing so, the new NAFTA will give a voice to Canadian SMEs and facilitate discussions on issues that matter to them.
Let me conclude by highlighting once again that we have worked very hard to ensure that this new agreement will be of benefit to all Canadians, including middle-class workers, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as traditionally under-represented groups such as women and indigenous peoples.
I am proud to say that we have achieved our objective. We have made important progress toward elevating standards and benefits for all Canadians, and for that I am grateful.