Honourable senators, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-85, An Act to amend the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.
I am very supportive of this legislation, which I think is representative of a general by-partisan consensus that exists in Canada on two issues: First, I believe that Bill C-85 represents the value of free-trade agreements in promoting Canada’s prosperity; and, second, I believe this legislation underscores the importance of Canada’s broader bilateral relationship with the State of Israel. I would like to address both of these issues in my remarks.
On the trade side, Canada has had a free-trade agreement with the State of Israel since 1997. Since that time, merchandise trade between Canada and Israel has more than tripled. In 2017, its total value reached $1.7 billion.
Canada’s top exports and imports to Israel have been in the following sectors: Industrial machinery, aircraft and parts, pharmaceutical products, electrical and electronic equipment, precious stones, scientific and precision instruments.
Senators will note that many of these merchandise exports and imports are in the high-technology sectors. Indeed, Canada’s trading relationship with Israel is characteristic of the relationship that exists between two highly industrialized and technologically advanced countries.
Several Canadian provinces have recognized the technological opportunities that exist in our trading relationship with Israel. It is not surprising that Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec all have concluded bilateral science, technology and innovation agreements with Israel.
The Israeli economy affords Canada with an important market in the Middle East. Total Canadian exports to Israel averaged over $400 million annually between 2015 and 2017. At the same time, some $1.3 billion in annual imports to Canada originate in the State of Israel.
The Israeli economy is strong and continuing to expand, with 3.5 per cent growth expected in 2018. It is natural, therefore, that Canada would seek to further benefit from this trading relationship, and it was in 2014 that the former Conservative government initiated discussions with Israel to broaden our bilateral trade agreement.
These negotiations were completed in July 2015 with four chapters in the original agreement having been updated and with an expansion of the free trade agreement to include seven new chapters, specifically chapters on e-commerce, intellectual property, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, trade and environment, trade and labour, and trade facilitation.
Once the CIFTA is fully in force, nearly 100 per cent of Canadian agriculture, agri-food, and fish and seafood exports to Israel will benefit from preferential tariff treatment. That is an improvement from 90 per cent of agricultural exports benefiting from preferential tariffs currently.
Under CIFTA there will also be new opportunities for Canadian companies in the aerospace, technologies and life sciences, and energy sectors.
The aerospace and defence sector, in particular, represents a significant potential market for Canadian companies. Opportunities exist for Canadian firms in avionics, communication systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as other systems.
With respect to clean technology and sustainable energy, there are also significant opportunities. These sectors, along with effective water management, are key priorities for the Israeli government and for Israeli industry. In contrast to Canada, Israel lacks significant water and energy resources.
Canadian firms that are active in solar technology, energy storage, biofuels, water disinfection technologies, leak detection and wastewater reuse are now afforded potentially enhanced opportunities in the Israeli market.
Yet more opportunities exist in relation to education and research. Both Canadian and Israeli post-secondary institutions benefit significantly from international cooperation based on institution-to-institution agreements, as well as on faculty and student exchange programs. Indeed, in 2017, 690 students from Israel were studying in Canada, and Canada also welcomed more than 78,000 visitors from Israel in that same year. Going in the other direction, nearly 100,000 Canadians visited Israel in 2016.
These people-to-people ties are really the core foundations of Canada’s close relationship with Israel. It is therefore right and fitting that Canada has identified the State of Israel as a key trading partner and that Israel was included as a priority country among the 10 bilateral and multilateral negotiations initiated by Canada between 2006 and 2015.
As important as the bilateral trading relationship is, this relationship between Canada and Israel is about so much more than economics and trade. Indeed, the conclusion of the updated CIFTA symbolizes the fact that Canada and Israel have become strategic partners.
In 2014 when the former government of Stephen Harper entered into negotiations for an expanded CIFTA, Canada also signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel ushering in a strategic partnership relationship. That strategic partnership underlines the commitment that both countries share to a common set of core values. Principles and interests identified in the strategic partnership MOU include our shared commitment to democracy, free markets, security, peace, justice, human rights and freedom. Both parties also agreed that the security of Israel and the wider region directly affect the security of Canada.
The Canada-Israel Strategic Partnership provides a forward-looking framework upon the bilateral relationship that can be developed and strengthened. The agreement and legislation that we have before us today arises from that foundational concept document that was signed in 2014 under the Harper government.
Colleagues, I believe that the principles outlined in the memorandum of understanding have never been more important. Today Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. It is the only country in the region with which Canada shares core fundamental values, most specifically a joint and common commitment to liberal democracy and to the rule of law.
It has been disconcerting to witness the human misery caused by extremist movements in various parts of the Middle East over the past decade. Countries and societies have been systemically destroyed along with the hopes and dreams of ordinary people in these same countries.
Viewed in this larger strategic context, Israel really is an island of stability in an increasingly chaotic region, and I believe it is important for us to recognize that. In this regard, Canada has been wise in recognizing that extremist groups that directly threaten Israel, including Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda and ISIS, also pose a serious threat to democracies everywhere. This is why it is important that we can continue to acknowledge the broader strategic importance of Canada’s relationship with the State of Israel.
Honourable senators, I strongly support Bill C-85. I support it for the enhanced trade opportunities that it will afford Canada and Israel, but I also support the bill and the agreement because they are one component of a broader strategic partnership that is so important for both of our countries.
Therefore, I urge all senators to support this legislation, which I look forward to seeing considered in greater detail when it is referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.