Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and colleagues. It's good to be here.
I'm going to just read a statement that will give you a bit of update on where the Doha Round is and where the fisheries issues are at this time.
Let me begin by reminding members that these Doha WTO negotiations began in 2001, so they've been going on for seven years now, which is actually not that unusual. The Uruguay Round took seven years to come to an agreement.
The Doha Round, as you know, is a development-focused round, intended to provide maximum opportunities to developing countries. It includes a very substantial emphasis on agriculture, but also non-agricultural market access, trade in services, rules, and trade facilitation.
Canada, as we have always been, is an active and committed participant in all of the negotiating groups. When you look at our objectives at the Doha Round, the first is to achieve an ambitious outcome that creates a level playing field for our agrifood sector, which, as you know, is an economic engine in countless communities across Canada; second, to increase market access for goods and services more generally; third, to provide improved and clarified rules on trade remedies and strong binding rules on trade facilitation; and finally, to provide real benefits, of course, to developing countries, which is what the round is primarily about.
In terms of the process that is going on, over the past year the chairs of various negotiating groups have issued draft texts to advance discussions. Proposals with sufficient levels of support will eventually become part of the final package to put to trade ministers for a final decision. It's important to note that the decisions at the WTO are consensus based among the members of the WTO, which means that the ministerial conference will ultimately decide on the final outcome of the Doha Round. As you know, the WTO has what's called a single undertaking, which means that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.
At the present time, the focus is on agriculture and non-agricultural market access, otherwise known as NAMA, with discussions taking place at the senior officials' level, with a view to bridging gaps in these two key negotiating areas. If sufficient progress is made on agriculture and NAMA, this would lead to a meeting of ministers, but at the present time there are no indications from the secretary-general of the WTO as to when indeed, or if, he will call a ministerial meeting.
At this stage, ministers wouldn't be meeting to agree on a final package, but rather, to agree or attempt to agree on what are called “modalities” in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, the purpose being to give further guidance to officials to move the negotiations forward to the final stage. No decision is envisaged in areas of the agenda other than agriculture and NAMA, and that would include the issue of rules and fishery subsidies. So there's no imminent decision to be made there, but there is a process that we are actively involved in, and I'll tell you a bit about that in my remarks.
There is still some hope that the Doha Round can be concluded this year. My own personal judgment is that it's no better than 50% likely at the moment, but that's just my judgment. But a successful conclusion of the Doha Round is a priority of the government.
With respect to the rules negotiations, Canada’s overall objectives are to improve the disciplines on anti-dumping and countervailing measures in order to achieve greater international convergence and predictability in their application, and as a means of preventing unnecessary disruptions to trade such as we've seen in the past--for example, around issues like softwood lumber.
Canada has also supported improved disciplines on fisheries subsidies for trade and environmental reasons. As you know, the chair of the rules negotiations issued his draft text on November 30, 2007. That text reflects the chair’s proposals on how WTO members might wish to address issues in areas of anti-dumping, general subsidies, and--of particular interest to us today--fisheries subsidies.
While Canada supported a number of the chair’s proposals in a number of areas, we have major concerns regarding certain proposals by the chair, including the area of fisheries subsidies. We are not alone in those concerns; there are a significant number of strong players that are as concerned as Canada is.
On the specific issue of subsidies to the fisheries sector, trade ministers called for special attention to address subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing when they launched the Doha negotiations in 2001, the view generally being that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. During the negotiations since that time, extensive consultations were held with provinces, territories, and the fisheries industry, all of which have been supportive of the concept of disciplining subsidies in the fisheries sector. These consultations have allowed Canada to develop its position on the issue, which, as I have already said, can be summed up as there being too many boats chasing too few fish.
We do believe that increased disciplines for fisheries subsides are beneficial to Canada, as they support our efforts to improve the global governance of the fishery resource. So right from the beginning Canada has been saying that the focus has to be on the most damaging practices. This means that the proposed disciplines have to address those subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing--for example, subsidies for vessel construction.
We also maintain that any disciplines need to be enforceable, workable, and transparent. As I noted earlier, the draft text proposal circulated on November 30 proposes certain restrictions that are unacceptable to Canada.
As the committee has discussed before, the key concerns for Canada are the inclusion of the prohibition on income support and port infrastructure. We are also concerned with the fact that the chair has not provided an exclusion for small programs. In discussions in Geneva on these issues with the chair and other WTO members since November, Canada has expressed its concerns regarding these proposals by the chair.
With respect to income support, we believe there is no link between employment insurance benefits and overcapacity and overfishing. These programs do not contribute to overcapacity and should not be disciplined. We also made clear to the chair and other WTO members that social safety nets fall outside the scope of these negotiations--i.e., they shouldn't be on the table at all.
Turning to infrastructure, we also believe that governments must be free to provide essential infrastructure and services to their citizens. This principle is well recognized in the WTO agreements.
We've also made the point that it would be difficult to distinguish between general infrastructure and fisheries infrastructure, particularly in smaller fishing communities. Since the chair's draft text does not include a carve-out for programs in support of small-scale fisheries in developed countries, in April Canada proposed a de minimis provision that would allow all members, including developed countries like Canada, to provide a limited amount of support for small-scale fisheries. While there is opposition from many developing countries to this type of exemption, Canada will continue to actively pursue this provision as well as strongly pursue changes in the chair's draft text to address our concerns on income support and port infrastructure.
So we are well aware of the issues of concern regarding income support, infrastructure, and small programs, and we are pushing back strongly to have these concerns addressed.
On May 28, the chair issued a 282-page working document that includes three annexes relating to anti-dumping, general or horizontal subsidy issues, and fisheries subsidies. The document is a compendium of text proposals put forward during the negotiation, including the chair's November 2007 consolidated text proposals, as well as the positions and reactions expressed by members.
These annexes are not new draft texts, as the chair currently feels that he does not yet have a sufficient basis to issue revised consolidated text proposals. The chair refers to the three annexes as an interim step forward that seeks to convey in detail the full spectrum and intensity of the reactions to the first draft text and to identify, to the extent possible, the many suggested changes put forward by members.
The annex concerning fisheries subsidies reflects the interventions that Canada and other members have made regarding their strong concerns over the proposed disciplines on income support and port infrastructure programs. It also contains the de minimis proposal made by Canada in April of this year. This document clearly shows that there is no convergence of views on these proposals, and all of these issues are still very much the subject of ongoing negotiations. Indeed, the chairman indicated that there are very serious concerns on the part of many, if not all, delegations about the first drafts and that revision of those will be necessary.
While Canada appreciates the chair's efforts to reflect the concerns and positions of WTO members, including those of Canada, we would have preferred a new revised text. It is clear that further discussions will be necessary to address our concerns, and we will continue to pursue our objectives.
I will conclude by reiterating that we have made our concerns with the chair’s draft text known to the chair and to the negotiating group in the area of fisheries subsidies, and we have pushed for a revised text. In the meantime, we are continuing to work with like-minded members to address our concerns; and as I just mentioned, we proposed some new text on small programs.
These negotiations are one way that Canada is working to ensure prosperity in this sector, by disciplining the most damaging subsidies. The negotiations are a long way from over, and we will continue working to ensure that any eventual agreement does indeed reflect the interests of Canada’s fisheries sector. I am extremely optimistic that we will be successful in that regard.
I look forward to your comments and questions on this issue.
Thank you very much.