Canada needs to push on with free trade deals despite a turbulent 2017

  • National Newswatch

Last year was a real roller-coaster ride for international trade talks. While there were some highs, unfortunately we've pulled into the station without competitive access to world markets, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.Canada's exporters are green in the gills as a result, especially those in the agri-food sector. Canada is falling behind our competitors who have secured free trade deals that we haven't and uncertainty is clouding talks with the US and Mexico.Over the last ten years, agri-food exports have more than doubled to $56 billion in 2016. The federal government has a target of $75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025. It's pretty hard to see how that can happen unless we get these trade agreements back on track.As 2017 began, all eyes were on Donald Trump, the most protectionist U.S. president since the Great Depression. He pulled his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and forced the renegotiation the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).Best efforts to manage NAFTA negotiations have worked so far, despite some unconventional demands. It's important we manage the relationship with our number one trading partner carefully, but we need to do more to diversify our access to international markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.Late 2017 saw the re-birth of the TPP, spearhead by Japan. There is now an agreement on core elements by the remaining 10 countries, including Canada. But unfortunately, it's still not clear that the government of Canada is serious about concluding negotiations.This is unfortunate as this is Canada's best and perhaps only option to secure a free trade agreement with Japan, and a deal is within reach.It's time for Canada to take a leadership role by closing the deal, or be left behind. Australia and Chile already have free trade agreements and the Japan-EU agreement will slash Japanese tariffs on European agri-food products. The EU also has trade agreements with seven TPP11 countries and is negotiating with three others.In the fall, the provisional application of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was a landmark moment for Canada's agri-food sector. However, even here, there remain many areas where there's more work to be done to realize its potential.There's also China. The Asian powerhouse is Canada's second largest trading partner and agri-food exports worth $6 billion annually are a big part of Canada's exports. This trade occurs despite tariffs on agri-food products that are nearly double those applied to other goods.China has shown its willingness to embrace freer trade in agri-food with countries like New Zealand and Chile, and the rewards have proven substantial. New Zealand tripled its agri-food exports after concluding an FTA with China in 2008. China has also concluded a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.While 2017 involved many ups and downs, Canada's agri-food exporters continue to press the federal government in 2018 to lead the way towards greater access to international markets. It's a path that will support the 90 per cent of Canadian farmers who depend on world markets and the million jobs supported by the agri-food sector in communities across the country.Brian Innes is President of the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance