Madam Speaker, I am proud to add my voice in support of this important piece of legislation.
I would first like to take a moment to remind the House that Canada and the United States have built one of the closest relationships between any two countries in the world. This partnership is essential to the well-being of all citizens. Our close trading relationship supports millions of jobs in both Canada and the U.S., and we will continue to work with the new administration.
Bill C-23 is another example of this government's firm commitment to creating jobs and promoting economic growth for Canadians.
As an MP representing a southwestern Ontario riding with many manufacturing and high-tech small and medium-sized businesses, I can attest to the importance of pre-clearance to keep travellers and cargo moving quickly and safely across the Canada-U.S. border. More than that, jobs for hard-working middle-class Canadians in my constituency and across the country depend on it.
The Waterloo region is only one of some 2,000 municipalities across Canada that rely on low-risk trade and travel to and from the United States to keep our communities growing. To be clear, we are talking about both the movement of goods and people, both of which are critical to our economy. In 2015, Canada exported over $400 billion in goods and $50 billion in services to the U.S.
Tourism is Canada's largest service export, accounting for 2% of Canada's overall GDP and employing over 600,000 Canadians. The overwhelming majority of tourists in 2016, nearly 70%, came from our neighbour to the south. Arrivals by air from the U.S. are up 17% from 2015, which is one of the many reasons that quick and effective pre-clearance is essential. Any measures that create economic and security benefits for both countries is welcomed by all Canadians, especially small business owners, including tourism operators who rely on smart, secure borders that improve the efficient flow of people and goods.
Bill C-23 will make it possible to do just that. This bill will implement the agreement on land, rail, marine, and air transport pre-clearance between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America signed in March 2015, which provides for the pre-clearance in each country of travellers and goods bound for the other country.
This is about making it faster and more efficient to welcome guests to Canada and the U.S. Pre-approved passengers are cleared for entry into the United States by American border officials on Canadian soil before boarding a plane, allowing passengers to avoid long and sometimes frustrating customs lines. They can also fly directly to some airports, such as LaGuardia in New York or Reagan airport in Washington. There are even some pre-inspection sites that are already serving the rail and cruise ship businesses on Canada's west coast.
Pre-clearance is a vital border management program. It enhances border security and improves the cross-border flow of legitimate goods and travellers. It allows for border infrastructure to be used more efficiently, and it makes travelling a more pleasant experience for all. Ensuring pre-cleared, low-risk travellers and cargo move quickly and efficiently into and out of our country is crucial to sustaining and expanding jobs for middle-class Canadians.
I remind the House that our American friends already passed legislation last December, the Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act of 2016, to implement the agreement south of the border. We are taking the next necessary step to complete the joint partnership with our southern neighbours with the passage of this legislation. This bill formally reconfirms Canada's commitment to the agreement and reaffirms the unique relationship between Canada and the United States.
Central to this relationship are people-to-people connections, and so I will talk about tourism. I am thrilled to report to the House that this past year was the best the tourism sector has experienced in over a decade, and the second best year on record, with almost 20 million international tourists visiting Canada.
International tourist arrivals grew by 11.1% in 2016, the largest annual growth Canada has seen in 30 years. We have another big year ahead of us in 2017 as we celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Our government values the tourism industry, which will benefit from this bill. We are well aware that trade and tourism are critical to our economy. An open border is necessary for the success of these two areas of activity. We also recognize that tourism makes a significant contribution to the Canadian economy.
In 2015, tourism generated over $90 billion in economic activity, directly supporting over 600,000 jobs spread from coast to coast to coast across all 338 federal ridings, and was responsible for more than $17 billion in export revenue.
I can assure the House that this government is committed to promoting increased tourism to Canada. That is evident in our support for Destination Canada, our federal crown marketing corporation that is working hard to show the world the incredible experiences and destinations that Canada has to offer. Formerly known as the Canadian Tourism Commission, Destination Canada has a strong track record of working with private sector partners and governments at all levels to maximize the impacts of marketing campaigns.
Budget 2016 provided $50 million over two years to Destination Canada to seize opportunities in important markets, such as the United States. Connecting America is Destination Canada's national marketing program aimed at raising awareness of Canada as the travel destination. Together with the Canadian tourism industry, Destination Canada is engaging American travellers by inviting and motivating them to see Canada. The marketing campaign targeted to U.S. cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami aims to creatively show American travellers how we are unique and different. Canada is warm and exciting with urban sophistication. Connecting America highlights the variety of unique world-class destinations and experiences that only Canada has to offer.
These efforts are already paying off. From January to December 2016, the number of international visitors who spent at least one night in Canada increased by 11% compared to the previous year. In the first nine months of 2016, tourism injected $74 million into the Canadian economy, which represents an increase of 4.3% compared to the same period in 2015.
As I noted earlier, 70% of international tourists came from the United States. Overnight trips by air travellers from the U.S. increased by 17%, and overnight trips by auto travellers increased 7% compared to 2015. This is fantastic.
These statistics underscore the importance of pre-clearance, which makes it easier for pre-approved American visitors to enter our country and to choose Canada as their top international destination. This is especially true when we realize that international travel between countries represents one of the fastest growing export sectors in the world. A billion international travellers spent $1 trillion annually outside their own borders. In 2015, international tourist arrivals grew by 4.6% to nearly 1.2 billion globally, and these tourists spent over $1.2 trillion U.S.
Also promising is the growing interest in indigenous tourism from international visitors, which can create jobs and generate economic growth for indigenous communities across the country. We are talking about authentic indigenous experiences, and we are working with the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada so that we do this right.
To share Canada's natural beauty with the world, we are also investing in our system of national parks, conservation areas, and national historic sites. Together with nearby communities we are working to help grow local ecotourism industries and create jobs for middle-class Canadians. Lonely Planet, The New York Times, National Geographic, Condé Nast, and more have named Canada as the place to be in their top destinations for 2017. The focus on pre-clearance will make travelling trouble-free, and will make all those who visit our country from the United States feel even more welcome.
I would like to remind members and assure the tourism industry, as my colleague the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has said, that U.S. border officers operating in pre-clearance sites in Canada must exercise their duties in accordance with Canadian law, in particular our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Human Rights Act.
Allow me now to turn to small and medium-sized businesses. Consider that nearly 400,000 people cross the Canada-U.S. land border every day, along with over $2 billion in goods and services even before we factor in rail, ships, and air and it becomes quite obvious why this agreement matters to Canadians. It matters particularly to SMEs, the key drivers of Canada's economic growth, which are so crucial to Canada's long-term prosperity. I would remind the House that SMEs are the backbone of the economy, employing 90% of the private sector workforce and accounting for almost 40% of the GDP. Border delays can be a significant obstacle to economic growth. Indeed, only 12% of SMEs are exporting. We can and will do better.
We can find Canadian SMEs' expertise in both the manufacturing and service sectors in every region of Canada. My riding of Waterloo is a case in point.
Waterloo's world-class ecosystem has companies manufacturing everything from lab equipment and supplies to stainless steel tubing and carpets. It has the many incredible companies housed at Communitech and the Accelerator Centre, and numerous high-tech firms specializing in everything from drones to digital imaging and semi-conductors. That is before we even talk about the city's three outstanding post-secondary institutions: Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University, and my alma mater, the University of Waterloo. As well, we have the Institute for Quantum Computing, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research.
Waterloo's close proximity to the Canada-U.S. border makes it just one of many cities and towns dotted along the 49th parallel where the vast majority of Canadians now live and work. All of the small and medium-sized businesses, including tourism operators, in those communities would be better off with a seamless border for pre-approved cargo and travellers.
Increased access to global markets can help innovative Canadian firms to grow and expand into new markets. Our government recognized this in budget 2016 by providing $4 million over two years to renew the Canadian technology accelerator initiative. The program supports Canadian information and communications technologies like life sciences and clean technology firms by providing mentorship, introductions to potential clients and partners, as well as desk space in business accelerators abroad. The program has nine locations, including seven in the United States, to enable firms to more easily export their services and products. I visited the CTA in Boston and have seen first-hand the amazing support the CTAs provide to our Canadian firms expanding in the U.S. markets. Small and medium-sized businesses are major contributors to our balance of trade. In 2013, they were responsible for $106 billion or 25% of the total value of exports. Exporting is vital to the health and verve of Canadian businesses and in particular SMEs. It is worth noting that even though only a small proportion of small firms export, of those that do, roughly 90% export to the United States.
Our government is working hard every day to make sure that businesses have the resources they need to grow and compete successfully in export markets. This includes the CanExport program. CanExport is providing $50 million to help Canadian SMEs take advantage of global opportunities. I should point out that a majority of the CanExport projects approved to date are smaller firms that are less than 15 years old, have less than 20 employees, and less than $2.5 million in annual revenue. CanExport has already approved over 600 projects. It is a central element to the international trade and investment strategy, which I have been working on with the Minister of International Trade.
To help promising small firms grow larger, budget 2016 launched the accelerated growth service to help them scale up and further their global competitiveness. Businesses can access coordinated services tailored to their needs from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada, the National Research Council's industrial research assistance program, Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, and the regional development agencies. High-potential firms are given more time to focus on their businesses, while an assigned consultant provides strategic advice on how to navigate the government supports available to them and helps them design a business development plan, including for SMEs that want to scale up through exports. We have already engaged 100 firms in the pilot year of the AGS, and we expect to assist an additional 300 firms in the second year of the program.
Only two weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Canada-United States council for advancement of women entrepreneurs and business leaders with the U.S. President. One of many benefits of the council would be greater support for women exporters.
Bill C-23 is another instrument that would build on these initiatives and help exporters get their goods to market more efficiently and securely. Every hour saved in delays at the border increases productivity that benefits Canadian workers and business owners alike. The passage of this bill would be an incentive and would support more Canadian firms wishing to scale up to further their global competitiveness.
The Prime Minister wants our country to take advantage of opportunities to grow our businesses by strengthening the long-standing friendship and enormously successful trading relationship between Canada and the United States.
The implementation of Bill C-23 is the next step. Pre-clearance would reduce congestion at ports of entry and eliminate uncertain, unnecessary, and costly delays at the border. Congestion, excessive paperwork, and uncertainty cost small businesses and tourism operators valuable time and money. In a just-in-time delivery world, pre-clearance would be a time and money saver for small businesses, and it would be a solution. It would also provide privileged access to the U.S. market for Canadian companies, creating new opportunities for firms to expand and export.
Pre-clearance would also make air travel more efficient, enabling 12 million Canadian passengers to avoid lengthy customs lines in the U.S. each year. This would also increase the competitiveness of Canadian airports internationally.
Maybe most important in today's environment, pre-clearance would enable us to determine which people and cargo pose a risk to our shared security space. This would enable both countries to proactively address threats from outside the continent while continuing to ensure that legitimate trade and travel move freely at our borders. This would help to make sure that our society remains open to legitimate immigrants and refugees from around the globe. This is particularly important to me this year, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
There are so many persuasive arguments for supporting this legislation. It would be good for small businesses and the tourism industry. It would be equally good for security, reducing Canadians' risks from external threats. Ultimately, it would be good for Canadian travellers, whose time is precious and who would no longer be needlessly tied up at the border when they have better places to be.
I am confident that Bill C-23 would help ensure that citizens of both Canada and the United States would continue to benefit from an open but secure border that protects our shared economy, shared values, and shared way of life. That would be enormously good for Canadians overall.
Making sure that Canada remains open and that Canadian goods, services, people, and knowledge can reach U.S. markets securely and swiftly will enable us to provide jobs, prosperity, and opportunities for all Canadians.