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View Kelly Block Profile
Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-4, the new free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, at third reading.
Perhaps I should say that I appreciate finally having the chance to speak to this agreement, as Conservatives have tried time and again to move this deal forward.
It is that clear we need economic stability, and an unsigned free trade agreement with our largest trading partner is anything but stable. In 2016 alone, Canada exported approximately $425 billion in goods and services to the United States while importing approximately $407 billion.
I will be speaking about how this deal will impact my riding and my province, but first I want to reflect on how we got here.
For over 30 years, free trade in North America has been a cornerstone of the Canadian economy. Negotiated by a Conservative government in the early 1990s, NAFTA made tangible, positive impacts on the lives of millions of Canadians. It helped propel us to becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world, a country that weathered the 2008 recession better than any of our G7 counterparts. This is a Conservative legacy, a legacy of prosperity.
However, for some time during the previous Parliament, it appeared that this legacy of prosperity was in jeopardy as a result of the actions of the Liberal government. Still, the Liberals managed to pull a deal out of the fire. Of course, it would have been better not to have started the fire in the first place.
This deal is likely the best the Liberals could do, but it certainly was not the best deal possible. When negotiations began, President Trump was concerned about what were perceived as unfair trade practices from Mexico. Canada was not his target, nor was there any reason to expect that we would be, yet the Liberals squandered much of the goodwill we had with the United States almost as soon as the negotiations began by presenting a list of priorities that had essentially nothing to do with free trade, a list not, I would note, dissimilar to the list the Liberals presented in their initial discussions with China, who quickly sent them on their way.
Within months, the United States placed the removal of the dispute settlement mechanism and supply management on the table. There had been little indication that these were issues with Canada. The United States went further by imposing tariffs, no doubt unfairly, on Canadian steel and aluminum. We were then left on the outside looking in as the Americans negotiated and agreed to a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico. Canada was forced to play catch-up in negotiations and needed every ounce of goodwill to save a deal.
How did the now Deputy Prime Minister respond to this precarious situation? She responded by using her platform while accepting an award to imply that the president of the country we were trying to sign a free trade agreement with was a totalitarian. That is what I mean by starting the fire.
It is remarkable, and I say this with all honesty, that the Liberals were able to salvage any deal out of that house fire, let alone one that contained a dispute resolution mechanism and did not do away with supply management entirely. Still, the question must be asked: How much better would this deal be if the Liberals had not undermined themselves time and time again? Unfortunately, we will never know what deal we could have had, but we do know what deal we have.
Now I would like to take some time to speak about how this agreement would impact my riding and my province.
As many in the House may know, I represent a large, mostly rural riding which is home to the majority of Saskatchewan's supply-managed farms. However, most of my colleagues would be unaware that I also represent a large area that is referred to as the “iron triangle”, a cluster of municipalities with metal manufacturing as a primary or major industry. Communities like Humboldt, Annaheim, Englefeld, St. Gregor, Vonda and many others punch well above their weight in the design, development and manufacture of high-quality, world-leading agricultural equipment.
They make up an important part of Saskatchewan's growing manufacturing industry, which is an industry that exports over $300 million in products each and every year. One can imagine how much of an impact the tariffs placed on Canadian steel and aluminum had on these communities and the companies that call them home.
The trade war that resulted had real consequences for the constituents in my riding, many of whose livelihoods rely on the free movement of manufactured metal equipment throughout North America. Understandably, it came as a relief that the tariffs on steel were removed in the negotiation process. However, that good news has been tempered by the ongoing tariffs on Canadian aluminum. Given what I have already outlined, I think there can be little doubt that a better approach in negotiations would have seen these tariffs removed completely.
Similarly, Canada was in a good position at the beginning of these negotiations to finally bring an end to the long-running saga of softwood lumber disputes. Now, as luck would have it, the United States Department of Commerce recently announced that there would be a significant decrease in the tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber, yet there is still no agreement in place going forward, leaving lumber producers in Saskatchewan in limbo for long-term planning. This was another missed opportunity.
Supply management, as I mentioned earlier, is a part of our economy that likely only came under scrutiny because of the Liberals' poor strategy in the early days of negotiations.
First, let me be clear that I am very happy to see that the Liberals did not literally give away the farm, although whether they figuratively did is up for debate. This new agreement would open up 3.6% of the Canadian dairy market to imports, significantly more than was agreed upon by the previous Conservative government in the TPP. It would also impose a threshold on Canadian exports of milk protein concentrates and other similar products to the United States and Mexico.
But there is more: Not only would CUSMA limit dairy exports to the signatory countries, but it would also limit exports to other countries not party to this agreement. What is more, we would now be required to report to the U.S. dairy commission before we begin negotiations with other countries. This would further limit the ability of Canadian dairy farmers to replace market share lost in Canada by sales to the signatories of CUSMA, and would handcuff us in other free trade negotiations going forward.
The losses to our dairy sector arising from these concessions will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and this comes at a time when dairy farmers are seeing increased costs from the carbon tax, costs they cannot recover either through rebates or through the market. The government must realize that our dairy industry, especially the many family farms in my riding, cannot continue to see their margins shrink and still remain in business.
There is more I could say on this deal, but in truth, Canada needs a free trade agreement going forward. We recognize that. Our already weakening economy cannot handle further trade uncertainty. Industry groups, chambers of commerce and provincial premiers understand this, and the majority have therefore asked the House to ratify CUSMA.
Faced with this reality, the questions of what could have been must give way to what is, and so, while far from perfect, CUSMA is better than nothing.
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