Justin Trudeau’s trade negotiation dance card will require far more dexterous footwork as Canada heads into 2020.
While there is optimism that the United States will soon approve the new North American free-trade agreement, its benefits for Canadian business compared with its NAFTA predecessor remain debatable, and the country’s free-trade deal with the European Union has yet to deliver many dividends in Western Canada.
There is hope, too, that Canada’s membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership will provide more business opportunities for B.C. But a major free-trade challenge facing Canada is at home, not abroad, where interprovincial free trade remains frustratingly limited.
How can a weak federal Liberal minority government change that?
For one thing, the importance of domestic free trade should cross all political party lines on Parliament Hill; for another, the provinces need to do more to reduce interprovincial trade barriers.
The Canada West Foundation also has some laudable ideas on internal free trade that need consideration from government and enlightened business communities across the country. For example, its Toilet Seats, Trucking and Other Trade Tie-ups report suggests establishing an independent Canadian internal trade bureau.
The federally funded organization would, among other things, gather the detailed data upon which informed decisions could be made to free up the flow of interprovincial commerce, competition and resources.
Without that, Canada will remain an underachiever, the sum of whose parts will be unable to create a more dynamic whole.
The upshot of the country’s parochial approach to protecting business and political fiefdoms is higher costs for consumers and counterproductive complications for businesses. But perhaps more importantly, it discourages the innovation that breeds business winners, not just at home but also in the all-important global marketplace, which is where Canada’s economic future resides.
As with building any valuable asset, the work begins at home. Government needs to start that work now.