Good afternoon, everybody.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to share the CFIB's perspective on Bill C-18.
You should have a slide presentation that was sent to you by the clerk. I'm hoping to walk you through it, so I hope you'll have that in front of you as I present my speaking notes over the next few minutes.
First, I just want to say that the CFIB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that represents about 110,000 small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. They come from every sector of the economy and are found in every region of the country.
It's important to remember that, normally, Canada's small and medium-sized enterprises employ about 90% of Canadians, and they're responsible for the bulk of new job creation. However, the last year has been particularly challenging for many small businesses right across the country, as they had to deal with shutdowns and limited capacity to help Canada deal with the pandemic.
As of early February, you should know that only 51% of businesses in Canada were fully open, that only 39% were fully staffed and that only 25% were back to normal revenues. The CFIB also released some new data just yesterday that found that seven in 10 businesses have taken on new debt during the pandemic, with the average debt being almost $170,000 per business.
I share these staggering numbers to highlight why it is so important to continue to find ways to bring stability and continuity to businesses trying to operate in these challenging times. I think that is what Bill C-18 aims to do.
I also believe that trade, both domestic and international, will be key to Canada's economic recovery. Agreements such as this one are essential in making sure that small and—to be fair—large businesses, as well, have some certainty when dealing with some of our largest trading partners.
To better understand why this is so important to small businesses, I'm going to be referring to a survey that we did back in 2017 that got almost 4,400 responses. As you can see, 31% of survey respondents had some experience with exporting, and 71% had some experience with importing.
These may be slightly higher than what is actually out there, as the survey likely attracted those, but they're not going to be too far off from what's actually the experience of many small businesses. For some, though, it's only an occasional thing. They maybe do it a couple of times a year. Others, though, do engage in trade daily. What's important, though, is that, regardless of the frequency of their trade experience, it needs to be as seamless and as easy as possible if we are to encourage more small businesses to continue to trade internationally.
Which countries do they trade with? Not surprisingly, the United States, of course, dominates the trading experiences of small businesses in Canada. However, as you'll see, more than 5% of small business owners import goods and services from the United Kingdom, and slightly more—closer to 6%—export to the U.K. In fact, amongst small firms, the U.K. is the third most likely region that Canadian small businesses will be exporting to—behind only the U.S. and the EU—and it's the fourth most likely country that Canadian small firms import from. Clearly, it's an important trading partner for small businesses.
We know also that governments around the world are interested in getting more small businesses involved in international trade. Therefore, understanding what motivates them to get involved in trade is still an important question. As you can see, most do it because they see a growing market demand for their product or service, want to expand their business or see good potential market opportunities. However, more than a third—36%—are also citing favourable trade agreements as having an influence on their intention to export. Having trade agreements address small and medium-sized business trade priorities would encourage even more to engage in trade.
That's why we've always welcomed the small business—or SME—chapters that were included in the CPTPP and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, as they're a starting point in recognizing some of the challenges that may be unique to smaller firms.
While CETA did not expressly have an SME chapter, there was some work done through a joint committee to recognize the unique needs of small firms. We would strongly encourage a continued focus on SMEs in this trade continuity agreement. We would also highly recommend that the new Canada-U.K. negotiated trade agreement include a small business chapter that has within it the development of such tools and activities aimed at assisting smaller firms with their trading challenges. It's these types of initiatives that will ultimately encourage more smaller firms to engage in trade.
At the very least, of course, trade agreements have to help small businesses overcome some of the barriers they face. Those challenges can include everything from currency fluctuations to the cost of shipping, but they also include dealing with various duties and taxes and understanding rules and regulations—basically those non-tariff barriers.
We are pleased to see that Bill C-18 will honour the tariff elimination agreements made under CETA, which includes the elimination of 98% of tariffs on products exported to the U.K. right away. That, of course, will go up over the next couple of years.
We're also pleased to see that chapters remain on improving technical barriers to trade, as well as an emphasis on working together on regulatory co-operation. Also, it's important, though, to improve customs and trade facilitation, as this is often where small businesses can get discouraged. Efforts to help them better understand all the various rules, all the various customs processes, will be an important component of making this trade agreement and others really work for small businesses.
While much of the information I'm sharing today comes from a survey done prior to the pandemic, I did want to share some more recent data that illustrates that these issues remain important for small businesses, even during troubling times.
A survey was conducted just last August. In it we asked what the federal government priorities should be or what it should focus on. As you can see, over one-third wanted the government to focus on ensuring favourable trade conditions for small businesses. This actually jumps to more than one-half among manufacturing firms. This is despite all the challenges that were in place at the time.
We want to ask that you ratify Bill C-18 and then move quickly to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement with the U.K. The trade agreement to be negotiated should include a small business chapter that addresses their unique needs and provides them with tools like a centralized website that has relevant information in plain language. It also should ensure that Canada and the U.K. provide tailored information for small and medium-sized enterprises on what changes to the agreement may impact their existing trade relationships, and how small businesses can benefit from the agreement. It should also focus on making customs processes easier, as this is often where the greatest stumbling blocks are for smaller companies.
Incorporating some of these ideas and moving quickly on this agreement will help make sure that businesses already trading into the U.K. can continue to do so with limited interruption, and could potentially attract even more smaller firms that are looking to expand into new markets to engage in trade.
I want to thank you for your attention. I look forward to answering any questions.