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Results: 1 - 15 of 66
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, I am very excited to be here today. What is happening is historic: this is the first time this kind of bill has been introduced. We are here in committee to debate it, and I hope our debate will show how important it is to vote for it.
Bill C‑216 is ultimately very simple. It would add to the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs the obligation to defend the supply management system fully by removing the minister's authority to negotiate those principles in future international trade negotiations. The minister would thus have no authority to sign a treaty under which tariff rate quotas would be increased for supply-managed goods or to reduce the tariff applicable where imports exceed the set tariff rate.
It is strange that Bill C‑216 should be so controversial since it has received unanimous consent on several occasions since my former colleague André Bellavance first introduced it in the House of Commons on November 22, 2005.
Since then, following every free trade agreement, the Bloc Québécois has sought to confirm Parliament's support for supply management by introducing motions for unanimous consent. On every occasion, members have supported those motions, and, every time, the government flip-flopped and did the opposite. Hence the importance of including these provisions in an act rather than a motion.
On September 26, 2017, during the NAFTA negotiations, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion urging the government to protect markets subject to supply management. However, little more than a year later, on November 30, 2018, the government reneged on its promise and signed CUSMA, which would replace NAFTA.
On February 7, 2018, during negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we introduced a motion seeking protection for the supply management system under that agreement. One month later, on March 8, 2018, the government once again went back on its word and signed the new treaty.
Then, on the last day of debate on third reading of Bill C‑79, An Act to implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Bloc requested and obtained parliamentarians' unanimous consent for the government to pay full compensation to supply-managed producers for the breaches contained in the three agreements. That was on October 5, 2018, and compensation was subsequently provided in part.
Lastly, on March 10 of this year, a majority of members from all parties voted in favour of the principle of Bill C‑216, which is even more significant than a motion.
I would simply like to remind members of the committee of what a vote on second reading means from a procedural standpoint. When members rise in the House to support the adoption of a bill on second reading, they are supporting the principle of the bill, by which I mean its idea and general scope. As members of the committee, you are therefore bound by that vote. According to the 2000 edition of Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice, chapter 16, "If the bill has already received second reading, the committee is bound by the decision of the House and may not amend the bill contrary to its principle."
Consequently, we are not here to debate the pros and cons of supply management; the principle has already been adopted in the House. We are here to consider whether Canada should protect certain segments of its agriculture industry from foreign competition based on the rules of the World Trade Organization's agreements because, I would remind you, the supply management system complies with those rules.
Nor are we here to consider whether we have a right to do so. We already know. Provisions were set forth in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the GATT, before the WTO was even established.
Furthermore, many countries have invoked those provisions. We are not the only ones protecting certain goods. Everyone does it, even the United States, which criticizes us, because, since it has always been protected, it wants to invade what remains of our milk, egg and poultry markets.
From what do we ultimately want to protect our products? First of all, we want to protect them from unfair competition. Our main partner, the United States, violates many international trade rules while demanding more access from us. They subsidize their farmers illegally to the tune of several billions of dollars a year, which lowers producers' production costs and enables them to sell their goods locally and elsewhere at lower prices, which is strictly prohibited by the WTO. It constantly challenges aspects of our agricultural and forestry policies, as we recently saw in the softwood lumber and milk quotas cases, despite previous decisions by the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body. It is one of the most protectionist countries in the G20, but one of those most demanding of market access.
Other agreements are currently under negotiation, notably the agreement with Mercosur, which consists of Latin American countries, and other agreements will inevitably be discussed.
Incidentally, the first 16 free trade agreements Canada signed never addressed supply management in any way. So it's possible to discuss trade without involving supply management.
The supply management system has been vastly weakened by the latest concessions made by supply-managed sectors, which will now have to reorganize. We can't allow the United States or any other countries to force us to abandon our agricultural policies and practices.
I don't know what you think, but I think it's utterly ridiculous for one state to tell another what it's entitled import or export and at what price. And yet that's what's happening under the new NAFTA.
Quebec and Canada are exporter nations. That's undeniable; this has absolutely nothing to do with increasing protectionism. What we want is to be able to maintain a system that has proven itself for nearly 50 years and that still delivers reasonable revenues throughout the production chain, supports families in our regions and enables us to use our land.
Canada, as it should, has diversified policies and strategies to enable producers to live off the land and feed our people in accordance with the agricultural model they choose. Supply-managed producers, and even the entire agricultural sector, whether it be the Canadian Federation of Agriculture or the Union des producteurs agricoles, are simply asking us to preserve their agricultural model.
Thank you.
I will now be pleased to answer questions from members of the committee.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
Good morning, Mr. Berthold.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
There have always been breaches following these agreements, including the one the Conservative government signed with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was initiated by the Conservatives and finalized by the Liberals.
I've often heard the Liberal party's Minister of Agriculture say that supply management was created by the Liberals, that they would not touch it and that they would defend it. I don't know whether they thought defending it meant that a few breaches, in 3% or 4% of cases, were acceptable. It appears that's been the case since they've solemnly committed to defending it. However, in their minds, it didn't mean defending it 100% of the time.
Now that a bill has been introduced on the subject, I'm hopeful we'll see an obligation to comply with the act. A motion, on the other hand, is just wishful thinking. So I hope the government honours the majority vote in the House.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
That's possible, but I think governments will be cautious about it.
The people from the Union des producteurs agricoles and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture have put enormous pressure on all members, insisting that they really want this bill. I don't think farming people would be happy if it were passed and subsequently contradicted by another act. The risk to any party in power would be very great.
However, I must say the Liberals have a tendency to change statutes as they go along. I agree with you on that point.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
It's possible, but, personally, I had a choice between doing something and doing nothing. So I chose to do something by introducing Bill C‑216, thus putting enormous pressure on the government simply because it wouldn't be dealing with a mere motion anymore, but with a bill. In so doing, I would ensure the government wouldn't amend those provisions once adopted. If it wished to amend them later on, there would be a debate and we would rise to defend our point of view. The pressure would also be on the agricultural people, as I said earlier.
If we allow the party in power do what it wants, it'll be entirely free to look into the free trade treaties. On the other hand, it will have to be a little more cautious once a bill has been adopted on third reading.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you for your question.
As I said in my statement, the bill would limit the minister's power to concede anything in international negotiations. As I told you earlier, we've managed to keep supply management intact in the first 16 free trade agreements that Canada has signed.
Every country has its own sensitive products that it protects. We also have our sensitive products and our farming practices as well, which are unique, and we protect them.
The aim of this bill is to continue protecting in future negotiations the principle of supply management, which has been around for 50 years. What's done is done. There have been breaches, and that's unfortunate, but we can take another tack in future negotiations, such as those we're preparing to undertake with Latin America.
Here's another example. Great Britain is now independent from the European Union as a result of Brexit and is currently negotiating a free trade agreement. However, Great Britain was part of the system when we conceded 3% to the European Union. We can't allow it another piece of free trade; we can't create another breach for Great Britain. It has to demand its share from the European Union because the agreement was negotiated for the entire European Union.
Our negotiators must therefore take very firm positions. When they sit down at the bargaining table and free trade is addressed, they'll be able to respond categorically that it's illegal under Canadian legislation for them to conduct such negotiations, period. Negotiations will then focus on other issues. It's a fairly simple principle.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
The tools we have are quite sound. We may have beef and pork products, and even chicken products, for export to quite safe markets, markets that operate very well. We had a problem with veal at one point, but that situation was resolved and prices are very good. We also export a lot of wheat, but consumption is rising sharply because wheat can also be used for green fuel in particular.
So we have export opportunities. I don't think that protecting certain sectors undermines exports in any way. That's why the Canadian and Quebec agricultural sectors are doing very well right now.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes. What the producers want is that the parties not use supply management as a bargaining chip during negotiations. They mustn't agree to allow a supply management breach in exchange for exporting certain goods, for example. The purpose of the bill is precisely to prevent that kind of bargaining.
I repeat, 16 free trade agreements have been signed without touching the supply management system. Proper negotiations are therefore possible with various countries if we put our cards on the table. Negotiators will be able to say at the outset that they won't touch the supply management system because a Canadian statute prevents them from doing so. That's how great and beautiful this bill is.
Negotiators don't consult Parliament every day when they sign an agreement. They subsequently say that they reached an agreement by winning on certain points while making certain concessions. Negotiators always open small breaches because they have the power to do so. If they didn't have it, the agreement implementing bills then tabled in the House would be entirely acceptable and wouldn't attack our supply management system, which has been in place for 50 years.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
You're absolutely right. When you decide to repeal an act, you have to have good arguments and the support of the sector concerned by the act. The decision has to follow from a request from that sector.
I told you earlier that the Liberals gave answers that showed they were very much attached to the supply management system. Before agreements like the one with the European Union or the Trans-Pacific Partnership were negotiated, I saw the minister rise in the House and say that it was the Liberals who had established the supply management system and that they would always defend it. They did it even more when the United States was involved. However, did they mean that they would defend supply management 100% or that they would defend it while making a few minor concessions? When you concede 3% here and 3% there, in the end, 10% of farmers' incomes disappears. That's so significant that it can compromise a farm's success, particularly for young farmers who want to go into dairy production, for example.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
That's the problem.
First, I'd like to thank you for the speech you gave during the first hour of debate on Bill C‑216. I listened to you attentively and was much impressed by the way you made your case and defended supply management.
The problem you mentioned concerning the Liberals is of course still a political problem. However, as I said earlier, they're sensing growing pressure from farmers. It seems to me it would be extremely costly for them to go back on their word because supply-managed producers have high hopes for this bill. That's what they told us when we met with them. If it passes, they'll be able to invest, for example, because they'll no longer be afraid a breach may open up and jeopardize their businesses.
Furthermore, many farmers are talking about creating new products. Something's happening in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where farmers have joined forces to conduct research and development in order to achieve better results and design products that the public wants. Once they have assurances the supply management system is safe, they can think about designing new products and thus further expand the economy.
What we are proposing doesn't constitute a brake, far from it. Some say it would be like putting a brake on free trade, but that's far from true. I even heard someone say the supply management system was a type of federal social assistance program, whereas no subsidies are granted for supply management. People think producers subject to supply management are passive, but that's not at all the case. They're very dynamic. For example, cheese production is incredible in Quebec and everywhere else in Canada. Incidentally, I've tasted cheeses from your region that are extraordinary. We can compete in the European market. So our system is very dynamic.
Consequently, I don't see how the Liberals can say that they said yes, but that they ultimately wanted to say no and that they're prepared to open up breaches in supply management and negotiate. That would be extremely difficult. Ultimately, this bill is an additional barrier to their continuing their current behaviour.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
That argument doesn't hold water, as shown by the exceptions you just mentioned. There's also the fact that all countries protect “sensitive products”. In every agreement between countries, certain products are protected and left alone. Before negotiating, it's important to clearly indicate that supply management is untouchable. Then, when the negotiations begin, the matter has already been settled by the act…
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
I know that there have been many comments and articles on this subject. It's a possibility, since the arrival of Mr. Biden. Would this have an impact? To be sure, if the United States wants to regain some of what was conceded in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, it could benefit, but there would be no additional concessions from Canada.
Marc‑André Roche, who is with me today, can give you further details.
View Louis Plamondon Profile
BQ (QC)
I fully share your point of view. The examples you gave are glaring.
I met some producers under supply management, mainly chicken farmers, who gave us unbelievable examples of all the manoeuvres used by the United States to cheat just a little, sometimes even to completely circumvent conditions under the free trade agreement. That had been the case for some time for cheese sticks. There had even been an incredible debate in Parliament. That was in 2008 or 2009, I think. At the time, we actually succeeded in disciplining the United States.
In any event, the solution would certainly be to have tighter customs monitoring. The government needs to make large investments to hire staff and acquire electronic equipment so that cheaters can readily be detected.
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