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Prime Minister Crest

Deputy Prime Minister remarks for the second reading of legislation to implement the new NAFTA

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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

I am truly honoured to speak here today in support of Bill C-4, an Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.

Canadians have come a long way since 2017, when Canada’s most important trading relationship – indeed our national prosperity itself – was put at serious risk.

The years that followed were among the more turbulent in our history, Mr. Speaker.

We have emerged, not only with the essential elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement intact, but with a better, more effective, and fairer agreement than before.

Better for steel and aluminum workers. Better for automakers and factory workers. Better for farmers, forestry workers, and energy workers. Better for the thousands of hardworking people in our service industries. Better for Canada’s artists, songwriters and film-makers. And better for the businesses who employ them.

Canada has always been a trading nation. Today, with our European and Pacific trade deals in force, and a modernized NAFTA on the way, we will have free trade with 1.5 billion people around the world. That makes us one of the great trading nations of the world, Mr. Speaker.

That we have achieved this at a time of considerable uncertainty in global trade, with the rules-based international order itself under strain, is something of which all Canadians can be rightly proud.

It is a testament to the unrelenting work of thousands of patriotic Canadians, from all walks of life, representing every political view, from all orders of government, and from all regions of our great country.  This truly has been Team Canada at work.

A little more than 25 years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement created the world’s largest economic trading zone. But let’s remember that that didn’t come about easily or without controversy.

A federal election was fought over free trade, in 1988. And my own mother ran against free trade for the New Democrats, in the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona.

These were intense debates, as many in this House will remember.

Yet today, the Canadian consensus for free trade is overwhelming.

Mr. Speaker, that is a testament to the enduring success of NAFTA, as a mechanism for fostering economic growth. And it is a testament to rules-based trade more broadly, as an engine of personal freedom, entrepreneurialism and prosperity.

Today, Canada, the United States, and Mexico account for nearly a third of the world’s GDP – with only seven per cent of its population. Every day, roughly two billion Canadian dollars of trade and 400,000 people cross the border between Canada and the United States. Those are impressive numbers.

When presented with the prospect of renegotiating NAFTA, we were determined to make it better; to update, refine and modernize it for the 21st Century. That is exactly what we did.

I would like to stress these two points, Mr. Speaker: under the new NAFTA, 99.9 per cent of our exports to the United States will be tariff-free.

And, when it comes into force, this agreement will be the most progressive trade deal our country has ever negotiated. Indeed, I believe it will be the most progressive trade deal in the world.

Growth that works for everyone is not just a slogan. It has been the animating, driving idea in our negotiations, from the start.

Let’s be honest: the negotiations that got us here were not always easy. There were some twists and turns along the way. There were, as I predicted at the outset, moments of drama. There were times when the prospect of success seemed distant. But Mr. Speaker, we hung tough.

Faced with a series of unconventional negotiating positions from the United States – a protectionist flurry unlike any this country has encountered before – we didn’t escalate, and we also didn’t back down.

We stayed focused on what matters to Canadians: jobs, economic growth, security, and opportunity. That is how we stayed the course, Mr. Speaker.

From the beginning it was clear that, in order to succeed, all of Canada needed to come together and work as a team.

We began by consulting with stakeholders across the country. We heard from industry, farmers, the service sector, and organized labour. We asked for and received input and insight across party lines. We reached out to current and former politicians, to provincial and territorial premiers, to mayors, and to community and Indigenous leaders. We reached out to individual Canadians and received more than 47,000 submissions on NAFTA modernization.   

We established the NAFTA Council, with people from different political parties, as well as business, labour, and Indigenous leaders.

I would like to thank every member of the NAFTA Council for their wisdom, hard work, and collegiality. Their insight helped guide our way forward, at every step of the way, right up to the present moment.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank current and past members of this House for their contributions. With politics, there is always partisanship, but there can also be collaboration in the national interest.

I know, from the many conversations I have had with colleagues across the aisle, and across Canada, that every single one of us here shares the goal of working for Canada and Canadians.  And this negotiation has not been a political project. It has been a national one.

There have been many hurdles. During the negotiations we were hit with unfair and arbitrary tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. We defended ourselves without rancour, but with firmness, imposing perfectly reciprocal dollar for dollar tariffs on the United States. Even as Team Canada fanned out across the U.S., reminding our friends, allies, and neighbours, that they rely on us for trade too.

We were consistent. We were persistent. And we never gave up. We just kept digging in the corners, if I may be allowed one NAFTA hockey metaphor. 

Mr. Speaker, the new NAFTA is a great agreement for Canada because we acted with resolve at the negotiating table to uphold the interests and values of Canadians. Our professional trade negotiators are, without exaggeration, the very best in the world. They are a group of true hardworking patriots, lead by the inimitable Steve Verheul. I would like to thank them on behalf of all Canadians.

I would also like to thank Ambassador Bob Lighthizer. I found him to be a reliable and trustworthy counterpart, even though there were many times we did not agree. He is someone who has become a friend. I would like to acknowledge his hard work, his professionalism, and his willingness to find win-win compromises for our great continent. That made this agreement possible.

I would also like to recognize the efforts of my Mexican counterparts, who showed tremendous commitment through a change in government in renewing our trilateral relationship and reaching a progressive outcome that raises working standards for workers across our shared continent. Muchas gracias, amigos.

Mr. Speaker, the benefits of this agreement for Canadians are concrete and considerable.

The new NAFTA preserves Canada’s tariff-free access to our most important market. Ninety-nine-point-nine per cent of our exports to the U.S. will be tariff-free.

The agreement preserves the dispute settlement mechanism, known as the famous Chapter 19 in the original NAFTA, which provides an independent and impartial process for challenging anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Critically, this mechanism is how we Canadians ensure a level playing field with a much larger trading partner. This mechanism is more valuable today than ever, with the WTO effectively paralyzed.

The new NAFTA preserves the general exception for cultural industries, which employ some 650,000 people across the country. They are integral to Canada’s bilingual character, our linguistic and cultural identity. They are an essential element for us. They ensure our capacity as Canadians to tell our own stories – in both official languages.

Mr. Speaker, our country’s farmers are as vital as ever to our collective prosperity. Canada and the United States enjoy the most important agricultural bilateral trading relationship in the world, with trade that amounts to some 48 billion dollars a year.

During the negotiations, the U.S. demanded we abolish supply management. We rejected that. This agreement preserves the future of Canada’s supply management system for this and future generations.

And the new agreement strengthens labour standards and working conditions in all three countries. This is a historic milestone, and for the first time, truly muscular and enforceable labour standards. This agreement, for the first time, levels the playing field in North America for Canadian workers.

It supports the advancement of fair and inclusive trade. It addresses issues related to migrant workers, forced or compulsory labour, and violence against union members, including gender violence. It enshrines obligations related to discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

This agreement modernizes our trade for the 21st century. Critically, it reduces cross-border red tape, and simplifies procedures for Canadian exporters.

It promotes increased trade and investment through a new chapter dedicated to small- and medium-sized businesses.

As well, the agreement preserves the provisions on temporary entry for businesspeople. These provisions are so essential to supporting cross-border trade and investment. Temporary entry ensures that investors can see their investments first-hand, and service suppliers can enter the market to fulfill their contracts on-site. At a time when walls are being built, temporary entry is a critical advantage for Canadians.

Crucially, the new NAFTA also shields Canada from arbitrary and unfair trade actions.

For instance: Our auto sector employs 125,000 people directly and another 400,000 indirectly through a network of dealers and after-market services. The side letter we signed with the new NAFTA protects this vital industry from any potential U.S. tariffs on automobile and auto parts.

The new NAFTA is great for Canadian auto workers. We see this in new, higher requirements for levels of North American content in the production of cars and trucks. We see it in the labour chapter, which includes key provisions to strengthen and improve labour standards in the NAFTA space.

Ensuring that women have the opportunity to fully and fairly participate in Canada’s economy is a key objective of our government. The new NAFTA is no exception. The labour chapter includes a non-discrimination clause and addresses barriers to full participation by women.

Mr. Speaker, responsible stewardship of the environment is essential to our collective economic future. The new NAFTA has a dedicated environment chapter that will help ensure that our trading partners can’t gain an undue economic advantage by failing to respect the environment.

The environment chapter requires that the NAFTA partners maintain strong environmental protection and robust environmental governance. It introduces new commitments to address challenges like illegal wildlife trade, illegal fishing and the depletion of fish stocks, species at risk, conservation of biodiversity, ozone-depleting substances, and marine pollution.

It also recognizes the unique role of Indigenous Peoples in the conservation of our shared biodiversity, and in sustainable fisheries and forest management.

This is a first, Mr. Speaker. For the first time in a Canadian trade agreement, the new NAFTA confirms that the government can adopt or maintain measures it deems necessary to fulfill its legal obligations to Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. Speaker, we should note that the obligations on labour and environment in the new NAFTA are subject to dispute settlement, a major accomplishment. This means any laggard can be held accountable.

In his speech to the U.S. National Governors’ Association in 2017, the Prime Minister referred to his father’s famous metaphor about Canada of our experience of sleeping next to an elephant. He said that contrary to his father’s phrase, Canada today is no mouse – more like a moose. Mr. Speaker, this negotiation and its conclusion has shown how right he was.

Throughout the formal negotiations, and in the months that followed, the Government of Canada has been intent on upholding the national interest.

This work continued last year, culminating in a protocol of amendments signed by Canada, the United States, and Mexico that strengthen State-to-State dispute settlement, labour protection, environmental protection, and rules of origin.

Mr. Speaker, our Government is committed to ensuring that the benefits of trade are widely and fairly shared.

The new NAFTA achieves this.

It fosters progressive, free, and fair economic growth. It reinforces rules-based trade more broadly, Mr. Speaker, at a time when such strengthening is badly needed. It restores stability in the trading relationship between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. And most importantly, this agreement brings stability and predictability to businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Our focus in bringing the new NAFTA to Parliament has always been on preserving and fostering opportunity for Canadian workers, Canadian businesses, Canadian families, and Canadian communities across the country.

That’s what we achieved, and this is what all of us, all Canadians have achieved together. It is something that all Canadians, and every member of this House, can be proud of.

We’re all here to serve Canadians. I encourage all Members in this House and in the Senate to work cooperatively with us to swiftly pass this legislation.

Thank you.