Canada will soon have preferential access to two-thirds of the global economy, thanks to three new or renewed free trade agreements, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a sold-out event at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Thursday, November 1.
He also promised that it will have a new pipeline, once it has met the direction of the Appeal Court of Canada on the halted $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Trudeau spoke on a range of topics of importance to the B.C. business community, from the $40 billion LNG Canada project and Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, to removing interprovincial trade barriers and bolstering Canada's labour pools through targeted immigration.
He also took the opportunity to take a swipe at Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer for having no alternative plan to the Trudeau government's national carbon pricing scheme.
Trudeau took credit for "an unemployment rate that is the lowest it has been for 40 years," and "record level Canadian exports" that make Canada one of the best performing economies of the G7 nations.
Trudeau said that his government is making international trade diversification "a top priority for our government."
Just this week, Australia became the sixth of 11 nations to ratify the newly rebranded Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – one of three recently concluded trade agreements. That agreement can now go into effect at the end of this year. It is important for Canada, and B.C. in particular, because it gives Canada tariff free access to Japan.
With the recent conclusion of a new free trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico, and the ratification of the CPTPP by Australia, Canada will soon have tariff-free access to more than 60% of the world’s consumers.
Canada is now signatory to three major free trade agreements:
• the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA);
• the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); and
• the CPTPP.
"We’re the only G7 country with a free trade deal with every other G7 country," Trudeau said, adding that his government will continue “unabashedly promoting trade at a time of equally unabashed protectionism in many, many countries."
He said that, under CPTPP, "100% of B.C. seafood will be duty free. That's huge for businesses like that up-and-coming seafood exporter."
Asked about interprovincial trade barriers, which are equivalent to a 7% tariff, Trudeau said his government is working with the provinces to remove those too.
“This is a massive priority for us,” Trudeau said, adding he'd be dealing with it at a first ministers meeting in December.
“It makes no sense that a trucking company needs three different first aid kits to go from Halifax to Winnipeg," Trudeau said. "There are obvious things we need to streamline."
In addition to embracing free trade, while other countries close economic borders, Trudeau also said Canada is moving in a different direction from other countries by opening its borders to immigrants. He cited the Global Skills Strategy as an example that benefits business.
"You can bring in top talent in specific sectors in two weeks to Canada," Trudeau said. "That kind of ability to bring in great people from around the world to lead the new offices that people want to set up is not just giving us a boost in people wanting to invest here, but it's creating more great jobs for top Canadian graduates of our great schools."
Under the Trudeau government, a number of multi-billion energy projects, like pipelines and LNG projects, have been stalled or killed, raising concerns about investor confidence in Canada.
But Trudeau pointed to the recent final investment decision on the $40 billion LNG Canada project as an example of how big investments can be made in Canada, while respecting First Nations and addressing environmental concerns.
"LNG puts us on the path to clean growth – LNG producing half the carbon emissions of coal," Trudeau said. "Coal that Canadian LNG will be displacing and replacing across Asia."
In defending his government's controversial federal carbon pricing scheme, Trudeau pointed to B.C.'s own provincial carbon tax as an example of a tax that reduced emissions while the economy grew.
"In fact, you have the fastest growing economy of any province or territory in the country," Trudeau said, before taking a swipe at Scheer, who has criticized Trudeau's climate change policies without yet explaining what a Conservative government's would be.
"Unfortunately there are still those who ignore the threat of climate change and are oblivious to the huge potential of a clean-growth economy," Trudeau said. "Andrew Scheer still doesn't have a plan to support Canadians in the economy of today while protecting the environment for tomorrow. He'd rather leave us stuck in the past while this new, exciting economy passes us right by."
Asked about the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau confessed an Appeal Court of Canada decision that quashed its approval and has sent the federal government back to the drawing board on two key issues – marine traffic impacts from oil tankers and First Nations consultations – was disappointing.
“I will admit that the federal court of appeal decision was really frustrating," he said, but added the court gave the federal government "a blueprint" that will help it do a better job in the future on Trans Mountain and other projects.
But the resource and energy sectors have new concerns over a new regulatory regime that will go into effect with Bill C-69. It has been criticized for increasing bureaucratic requirements and making it even more difficult to get major projects through the regulatory approval process.
Trudeau defended the new bill, saying it will give more clarity, "so that, when a company decides to invest and to move forward with project, they will have a much better idea up front of how long it's going to take, what the risks are that it might be not approved or approved, because it will be much clearer around the expectations.
"And it's a process that, once you go through it successfully, will keep you protected from lawsuits later saying 'You didn't do things right.'"
"This is about creating that greater degree of clarity for businesses, but also about restoring people's trust in governments and business's ability to get things done right for the long term."