Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement

Speech at third reading calling for human rights assessment

Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP): 

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31 at third reading. As my hon. colleagues will know, the New Democratic Party supported the bill at second reading, and we intend to continue supporting it at third reading.

A Canada-Ukraine trade agreement is significant for reasons beyond the opportunities it provides to Canadian exporters. The agreement symbolizes our countries' strong friendship, which is increasingly important as Ukraine continues to deal with conflict within its borders and a fragile relationship with Russia. These two issues are obviously deeply connected. In these tumultuous times, Ukraine is looking to its friends in the west. There is a strong case to be made that having a trade agreement with Ukraine is of great strategic importance. Indeed, Canada and Ukraine's friendship is often described as historic. We have spoken a lot in this place about the close socio-cultural ties between our two countries, and the strong Canadian Ukrainian communities across Canada.

Whom Canada trades with is very important and must be considered when it comes to analyzing free trade agreements. It is also important to consider the other country's record on labour and environmental rights, and how its government treats its citizens.

Canada is certainly not perfect with regard to our own human rights record. How our country has historically treated indigenous peoples is shameful. When we point our finger at other countries, it is important that we not forget our own failures with regard to respecting human rights.

Having strong labour and environmental rights is not a question of either one does or does not. It requires an ongoing commitment. These rights can be granted, but they can also be eroded without vigilant stewardship, and there is always room to strengthen them. Canada still has a way to go. CUFTA includes chapters on labour and the environment, both of which are regarded as substantive. It is positive to see that these chapters are included in the agreement. One of the big criticisms of NAFTA has been that these two important areas were left out of the main agreement. They were relegated to side agreements, almost like they were afterthoughts.

Proponents of free trade claim that trade and investment deals will increase prosperity for all citizens. It is the idea that a rising tide will lift all boats. In fact, the opposite is true. Unfortunately, with trade agreements, history has shown us that the benefits of trade are not—

[interruption]

As I was saying, it is the idea that a rising tide will lift all boats, but in fact the opposite is true. Unfortunately with trade agreements, history has shown us that the benefits of trade are not evenly distributed among all participants in the economy.

While corporate profits are soaring, wage growth in Canada since the 1970s has been stagnant. Household debt persists at record high levels while our younger generation struggles to find meaningful employment in an economy that no longer provides the stability and prosperity associated with full-time jobs that include benefits and pensions

Looking at NAFTA, while it led to job creation in some sectors, it also devastated our manufacturing and textile sector. Let us not try to paint over that fact. Furthermore, having labour and environment in side agreements in NAFTA did not raise the standards in Mexico to the same standards as here in Canada. Again, I am pleased to see that the Canada-Ukraine agreement, which we are debating today, does not treat labour and environment with the same disregard as NAFTA did.

When we look at Ukraine, we see that the country has made a lot of progress since 2014 when it was in the grips of a civil war that killed over 9,000 Ukrainians and displaced around 1.5 million people. However, just this past week, we read about conflict breaking out again in eastern Ukraine. Thirty-five people were killed after what has been described in the media as extensive and indiscriminate shelling. There is a war going on, and it is destroying families and communities. Children have lost their parents.

I spoke earlier about how a country's human rights record is not a static thing. It changes over time. We know that in Ukraine there is still a lot of uncertainty and continued conflict. The fact is Ukraine is still at an early stage in its transition to a market economy. It has a history of political instability. It has a weak constitutional framework. It is viewed as having a weak business environment for these and many other reasons.

Canada is currently looking at whether to add Ukraine to our Automatic Firearms Country Control List. There were consultations over a year and a half ago, but the government has been mum on whether Ukraine will be added to the list or not. If it is added to the list, Canadian companies could be allowed to export certain prohibited firearms and weapons to Ukraine. Given the ongoing civil war in eastern Ukraine, I would be very concerned about Canadian weapons ending up in the wrong hands.

It is not just about today, but about tomorrow, and 10 and 20 years from now. We are hopeful that peace and stability will prevail. In the meantime, a very practical way that Canada can know with greater certainty that increased exports of Canadian goods would not negatively impact Ukraine's human rights is by requiring an annual independent review of the impact of CUFTA on human rights in both our countries. As a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I proposed this as a possible amendment to this legislation. My colleagues felt the inclusion of such a review would be seen as “an unnecessary criticism of Ukraine”.

As I said at committee, I think when we have relationships with other countries, there are sometimes difficult things that have to be addressed, and this is one of them. Human Rights Watch has noted concerns over steps by the Ukraine government to restrict freedom of information and the freedom of the media. Free trade agreements should not be a reason not to talk about differences or broach difficult subjects respectfully. In fact, as a Canadian citizen, I would expect that my government would be having these conversations as part of trade negotiations. These were the concerns I attempted to lay out before the committee.

I also attempted to have the committee hit a pause button for a moment on Bill C-31 so that we could hear from some witnesses on this legislation. Unfortunately, the committee chose not to study the bill or hear from any witnesses beyond department officials. Without commenting on the merits of this legislation, I would like to note my deep concern with this approach.

As parliamentarians and as committee members, it is our job to study the legislation that comes before us and not just rubber-stamp it. Even if witnesses support the agreement, it is incredibly helpful to hear their testimony and to have an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the issues.

For example, when the committee studied CETA, albeit briefly, even stakeholder groups that supported the agreement talked about concerns with how the agreement would be implemented and how Canadian businesses needed support with accessing potential new markets. They made recommendations that they wanted us to carry forward to the government.

I would urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to not be afraid of asking questions and listening to Canadians, even on topics where we assume there will be overwhelming agreement.

In the Prime Minister's latest mandate letter to the Minister of International Trade, he said:

If we are to tackle the real challenges we face as a country - from a struggling middle class to the threat of climate change - Canadians need to have faith in their government's honesty and willingness to listen.

I would like to take a little more time to discuss some of the feedback our committee has received over the past year on how specifically the government can better help Canadian businesses access international markets. There are important points that are relevant to our consideration of the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement.

From the perspective of Canadian small and medium-size businesses, the signing of a new agreement is just the beginning. Having a new agreement will not magically translate into increased trade flows. Supporting markets is a big challenge. I am pleased to see this is part of the new minister's mandate letter.

Specifically, he is instructed to develop and implement a new trade and investment strategy to support Canadian businesses exporting to international markets and help Canadian jurisdictions attract global investment. In particular, I would like to see the minister's efforts really focus on supporting Canadian SMEs, not just the large companies which have more means to pursue new markets. Around 90% of Canadian SMEs do not export their goods or services. This would include micro businesses as well.

In my riding of Essex, a lot of businesses cannot even connect yet to high speed Internet. It is difficult to think of how they will connect to potential new markets in Asia, Europe, including Ukraine, if they do not even have a quality Internet connection.

We have talked a lot at the trade committee about the important role of Global Affairs Canada and what it must play in terms of engaging Canadian businesses, listening to what the non-tariff barriers are and working in close collaboration to address these issues.

I am pleased that the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce has been actively working to connect Ukrainian and Canadian businesses. There is also a role for the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service to play, and of course Export Development Canada.

I want to hear a lot more from the government on what its trade and investment strategy will include. I think too often these conversations are brushed to the side. They come as more of an afterthought after the agreement is signed.

I would also like to speak to a few more specific areas covered by the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement.

At second reading and at committee, I raised the issue of steel. As we know, the issue of steel dumping is one of great concern for us in Canada. It impacts my riding of Essex, as well as Hamilton, Sault Ste. Marie, Regina, and many other Canadian communities. Therefore, when I saw that CUFTA would reduce tariffs on the trade of steel between our two countries, I wondered how this might impact the global steel trade and the challenges of overcapacity and dumping. It is something on which to keep an eye.

In the meantime, I would like to once again urge the government to take action on improving and strengthening Canada's trade remedy system. Canada needs to do a better job of protecting our steel industry. That means enforcing the rules and doing a better job when other countries like China are breaking the rules. Standing up for Canada's steel industry is about standing up for Canadian jobs.

The trade committee has committed to a brief study of dumping. I hope we can make room for this soon. It will be important to hear from Canadian producers and workers on how the broken trade remedy system is hurting our industry. The finance committee has already done a study of the trade remedy system, so the solutions are there. Now it is time for action.

By and large, Canada's steel sector will not stand to lose in CUFTA. In fact there are not really any losing sectors in this agreement, which is rare.

In CETA, Canada made some big concessions around pharmaceutical, intellectual property rights, and around dairy and our maritime industry. These concessions will mean a higher cost of medicine for Canadians, and they will mean our dairy sector will lose millions and our maritime sector will lose thousands of jobs.

I was surprised that Canada did not take a second look at what we gave up in CETA after the U.K. voted to leave the EU. After all, the U.K. makes up about half of Canada's market in the EU.

In TPP, Canada would be forced to make many of the same concessions. We also know TPP would hurt our auto sector. In fact, TPP is estimated to cost Canada 58,000 jobs.

Both CETA and TPP include harmful investor-state provisions that erode Canada's sovereignty. These provisions make it harder for Canada to enact and enforce environmental rules, and they can also make it harder for Canada to introduce a national pharmacare plan. Even in the TPP, a special carve out was required to allow countries to preserve their ability to regulate cigarette packaging.

The problem with mega deals like TPP and CETA is that they ask countries to make a lot of concessions in areas that extend far beyond the traditional realms of trade. For example, the TPP includes a clause barring every other TPP member state from ever adopting Canada's notice and notice system for copyright rules. Our system is widely considered to strike a fair balance that respects the rights of users to share and collaborate, while ensuring that artists are fairly compensated for their work.

Perhaps the case could be made that trade-offs required by multilateral deals are worth it, if a government is willing to take proper steps to mitigate the negative effects. These trade deals can increase inequality if proper action isn't taken to make sure they do not. In this regard, bilateral trade deals tend to require countries to make far fewer concessions. They are easier to negotiate, and they are easier to ratify and implement. This is the kind of trade that the New Democrats tend to support, trade that reduces tariffs and boosts exports.

I would also point out that CUFTA is the second trade agreement the New Democrats have supported in this parliamentary session. We also supported the trade facilitation agreement.

My colleagues in the Liberal and Conservative Parties like to spread misinformation that the NDP is somehow anti-trade because we point out the flaws in the agreements, like NAFTA and the TPP.

We do not think a trade and investment agreement is appropriate with countries that have deeply concerning records on human rights. We want to see Canada do business with good partners of strategic importance. We want to see trade deals that do not harm the interests of everyday Canadians.

I would challenge my colleagues to participate in these debates about the merits of trade and investment deals on a case-by-case basis, instead of relying on blanket statements that all trade and investment is good therefore no study or critical analysis of an agreement is needed.

On the question before us today, I have studied the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement closely. Like other trade agreements the New Democrats have supported, on balance this agreement does serve Canada's interests.

I would like to extend my appreciation to Mr. Marvin Hildebrand, chief negotiator of CUFTA, and his team for their hard work on this file. I do not doubt that our trade negotiators always have Canada's best interests in mind.

I am pleased that all parties in the House have extended their unanimous support for Bill C-31. Let us not forget that it is time to ensure that this and every trade deal works for Canadians and creates market access and benefits for Canadians that we expect.