Free trade within Canada gets a boost from new deal

Posted on April 7, 2017 in Policy Context – News/Queen’s Park – Agreement aimed at easing barriers between provinces on thousands of products.
April 6, 2017.   By ROB FERGUSON, Queen’s Park Bureau

There’s a major deal to improve free trade between provinces and territories on thousands of products from coffee creamers to gasoline and more, says Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid.

But talks on moving beer, wine and spirits over boundary lines, a perennial sticking point, will require “further discussions,” he told reporters Thursday.

Critics have long complained Canada has better free trade deals with other countries than within its own borders.

Former federal industry minister James Moore noted two years ago, as talks began on the new pact, that it’s often easier to find Canadian wines from different provinces on store shelves in the U.S. than it is here.

The centerpiece of what Duguid called “the most ambitious free-trade agreement in the history of Canada” is a framework that will help provinces and territories agree on joint regulations and harmonization of standards.

“That’s going to help make Canada one of the easiest places in the world in which to do business. It’s going to make us more competitive. It’s going to create jobs,” Duguid said.

A Senate committee report last year estimated that long-standing trade barriers in Canada could cost the economy as much as $130 billion a year in lost opportunities.

Duguid, who chaired the internal trade renewal negotiations that have taken 21 rounds of discussions since 2015, cited small plastic coffee creamer containers as an example.

“There are regulations across the country where some provinces have different sizes of coffee cream containers. That drives our agri-food producers crazy,” he said.

“What we’re putting in place now is a system — it will be binding — that will lead to harmonized regulations across the country, so that food producers, in that case, will not have to produce a number of different containers, but be able to produce one,” he added.

But Duguid cautioned not to expect major changes immediately.

“This is going to take time and it will be done one at a time as we identify priorities . . . there are tens of thousands of examples.”

Gasoline is another, in terms of blending with ethanol, for which there are varying standards across the country.

“That drives our fuel producers crazy, because they have to produce different blends of fuel for different provinces. It costs them a lot more money,” Duguid said.

“By harmonizing that, it will make them much more effective, efficient and competitive.”

More details on the pact will be announced Friday in Toronto, where Duguid will be joined by federal, other provincial and territorial ministers.

Previous internal trade agreements have dealt with selected sectors of trade, but this one covers the entire economy, although there are exemptions for “some (provinces and territories) to hang on to certain areas they deem important,” Duguid said.

The report by the Senate’s banking, trade and commerce committee last June said the worst trade barriers in Canada include the coffee creamers, a similar issue with provinces requiring different beer bottle sizes, and prohibitions against shipping unpasteurized Quebec cheeses out of that province.

On the highways, some types of truck can only be driven at night in British Columbia and only by day in neighbouring Alberta. As well, inconsistent carbon-reduction initiatives between provinces cost businesses time and money, and standards differ for the grading of maple syrup, the committee found.

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