Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to discuss and debate Bill C-13.
Oddly, since this morning, except for a few interventions, very few people have spoken to the content of Bill C-13. This bill seeks to enact legislative amendments to comply with a World Trade Organization treaty or agreement that was signed to facilitate trade. I would say it is not an extremely controversial bill. We are supporting the bill at second reading simply because there are very few changes in it, since Canada is already largely compliant with the terms of the trade facilitation agreement. Very few legislative changes will be needed.
However, given that one of the arguments put forward by the government and those supporting the agreement's ratification is that this will truly help small and medium-sized business, we would also like to see, not just in the bill, but in the government's actions, concerted efforts to promote the economic activity of SMEs. Unfortunately, the government's efforts in that regard have been rather lacklustre from the start of its term. We hope this will change.
I very much enjoyed hearing the various debates from both sides of the House. They did not necessarily pertain to the bill itself, about which little has been said, but focused on who is the staunchest supporter of free trade in the House. I find that very amusing because arguments are being bandied back and forth, and members are accusing other members of not supporting free trade as much as they do. What we should note is that very little is being said about the content. Not much was said about the impact of this bill, except for the impact according to major economic theories and concepts, which we do not disagree with when it comes to trade. Canada is a nation that exports and imports. Its economy is open and benefits from the opportunity to develop through exports.
No one objects to that, and that is why the NDP will be voting in favour of this bill at second reading, just like we voted in favour of various other initiatives, such as the Agreement on Internal Trade. The NDP has also supported various trade agreements that have been signed, including those with Jordan and South Korea. That explains why, in some situations, we are still waiting to see what decisions the government will make, particularly with regard to the Canada-European Union comprehensive economic and trade agreement, for which the previous Conservative government promised specific compensation for dairy farmers and fish processors, as well as for the provinces, for drug expenses. We do not really know what the Liberal government is going to do about that.
With regard to the agreement with the European Union, we are not opposed to it at first glance, but we need to carefully analyze the compensation that will be granted by the government, if any. This may seem surprising because I often hear my Conservative colleagues and, to some extent, my Liberal colleagues saying that the NDP is against trade agreements and free trade. That is not the case. Unlike the other parties in the House, the NDP is more focused on the content of these trade deals.
This is extremely important because we need a lens we can use to evaluate our support for these agreements. I have not really heard these arguments from the Conservatives in the past. I have not heard them from the Liberals, either.
I would like to tell you a story. After the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union was signed, about two or two and a half years ago, Prime Minister Harper returned, and we discussed that trade agreement in the House. The day after the signing, the first statement in the House by the Liberal leader, now the Prime Minister, was to extend congratulations on signing the agreement. He said that the Liberals supported it, and he asked when we might have it. This seems quite absurd to me, since a trade agreement is a contract. In a contract, there is content to be reviewed to ensure that it is appropriate for Canada’s needs and what Canada is seeking.
That is why we need a lens, an evaluation grid or a set of principles for assessing the content of these agreements.
The NDP always evaluates three particular factors before deciding whether to support an agreement or not. First of all, any trade agreement between Canada and its partners must bring definite economic benefits for Canada. We are not talking about a zero-sum game. We fully realize that both parties may gain something. What should concern us is whether Canada gains something in the end.
It is important to realize that, in any trade agreement, some industries benefit more than others. Some of them may even lose in the deal. It is necessary to assess the overall economic impact of the agreements.
That is where the problem lies in the case of the trans-Pacific partnership. In the House, the Liberals and the Conservatives are ready to support it without first studying its economic impact on the country. This is pure carelessness, dogmatism, and irresponsible behaviour.
As parliamentarians, our duty is not to rubber-stamp a trade agreement simply because it is a trade agreement. We first have to clearly determine what the specific and overall pros and cons are for Canada. That has not been done in the case of the trans-Pacific partnership.
In fact, it is very rarely done for most trade agreements. It is rare for a specific study by the Department of Finance or Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada on how a trade agreement will affect the Canadian economy to be tabled in the House.
The first prerequisite is therefore that the trade agreement must have a positive effect on the Canadian economy with regard to growth and industry.
Second, such an agreement must be reciprocal. A trade agreement between Canada and a trading partner must afford Canada the same access and conditions that Canada gives its partner within its own borders. That would seem obvious, but it was not the case when we concluded certain agreements in the past.
For example, in the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement we signed with China, a number of elements did not ensure reciprocity between Canada and China. Nevertheless, the two parties in the House were fully prepared to sign the agreement. It is worth noting that the agreement has not been ratified since it was signed four years ago.
This makes me smile, because people gripe about why the Liberal government still has not brought the trans-Pacific partnership to the House for ratification, when the Conservative government signed agreements such as the one with the European Union and the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement with China that were never put before the House for ratification.
The third condition is that a trade agreement with any partner must comply with conditions regarding environmental protection and the protection of workers’ rights. In general, it must respect and promote the protection of human rights in the countries concerned. Once again, despite the claims made on both sides, this point does not seem to be of particular interest to the House or the committees studying the matter.
Since 2011, my first year in the House of Commons, we have been extremely consistent about supporting or rejecting trade agreements discussed in the House. We rejected agreements with Honduras, Panama, and Colombia, because those countries do absolutely nothing to protect human rights.
In committee, the two parties told us that signing a trade agreement would automatically promote the development of human rights and that there was no need to include provisions in the trade agreement.
They said that reviews would be carried out year after year regarding the human rights situation and how the treaty affected human rights. Systematically, there is never any follow-up on this issue. As a result, agreements are signed with countries that consistently violate human rights. We still sign agreements without bothering to try to insert provisions that will safeguard human rights and the environment.
That is why the agreements with Panama, Colombia, and Honduras were rejected by the NDP. That is why the NDP supported the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement and the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Since the free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union seems to pass this test at this time, we are quite willing to study it further.
That is a long way from the picture of the NDP that the Conservatives and the Liberals are trying to paint. When all is said and done, we are the only party that is truly responsible with regard to international trade, because we are the only party that does not automatically support everything that is put before the House and everything that is signed by successive governments. We pay attention to details and content.
In progressive circles, more and more people find that in fact, a trade agreement is not a bad thing in itself. It is an agreement that establishes the rules of the game between the two trading partners. However, it will be extremely important to amend this content in the future, because it is not just a matter of free trade.
These treaties generally say very little about the barriers to be eliminated; they have more to say about protecting investors. Indeed, that was the case for the trans-Pacific partnership. The bulk of the TPP, and of the agreements tabled in the House, is not about eliminating tariff or non-tariff barriers; it is about protecting investors in the various countries.
If we could stop talking about free trade, since the issue is not free trade, and start thinking about what could be called fair trade, Canada would be in a position to alter its negotiating stance with the various countries and include elements that would add a significant component of fairness to its trading. This would ensure that the benefits underlying international trade would go to everyone, not just to the privileged few. That is the basis of the NDP’s argument on international trade.
Let’s return to the issue of the TPP. We should ask ourselves whether it will be beneficial or not and whether there will be benefits for Canada or not, once again, beyond the usual elements—clichés, I would call them—concerning international trade. Let us ask the question. About 80% of our exports to the countries that already trade with Canada, namely all of the 12 countries in the TPP, are raw and semi-processed materials. If we look at what we import from those countries, 80% of those imports are high value-added products.
We are therefore in a situation where, economically, many experts complain about or lament the deindustrialization of Canada, Canada’s shift toward an economy that used to be industrially diversified, an economy that relies increasingly on raw or barely processed materials.
I think we would do well to have a debate and think seriously about how the Canadian economy has evolved in that direction, particularly since the 1980s.
The economic impact I mentioned includes another factor. Tufts University estimated that the trans-Pacific partnership would cost up to 60,000 jobs in Canada. However, the Conservative government, on whose watch we negotiated that agreement, did not present any economic analyses about job gains or job losses. What will the economic impact be with respect to growth?
In the United States, that analysis was done, and it was estimated that the trans-Pacific partnership could increase the gross domestic product by nearly 0.20% by 2025. We are going to make major structural changes in the American economy and all of the signatories’ economies for a 0.20% gain. At some point, we have to be critical of these agreements, not with regard to the principle of trade, but with regard to what our goals are when we negotiate and ratify these agreements.
There are very few analyses and debates in the House, only platitudes. That is a real shame, and also the reason I am proud to be part of the NDP. Since at least 2011, the year I was first elected, that party has taken a consistently procedural approach to analyzing these agreements. We want to continue doing so. An agreement such as the trans-Pacific partnership will have repercussions for supply management and the cost of prescription drugs, since there will be a big impact on intellectual property. These are repercussions of unprecedented scope. Let us not forget that Canada is currently the country with the second-highest cost of prescription drugs in the world. The agreement also gives enhanced protection and profits to makers of brand-name products rather than makers of generic products, which will drive up the cost of prescription drugs significantly. In the end, not only will the people have to foot the bill, but the provinces as well, since many of them have drug insurance plans, like the hospital sector, which is managed by the provinces.
So I want to reiterate the NDP’s support for this bill, which, in the end, does not have a big impact on the Canadian economy, but I also want to remind members that our primary role is not just to say yes or no to a trade agreement, when we have to decide on one, but to analyze it in depth to see how it will affect the Canadian economy and the people we are supposed to represent in the House.
I urge members to take a much more rigorous approach in this regard. We are already doing so. We are giving the other parties an opportunity to step up.