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Emerson Says Canada Making Free Trade in the Americas a Key Priority
(Source: Canadian Press via I.E. canada E-News Bulletin May 03/07)
Countries in the Western Hemisphere are “barely scratching the surface” of their trade potential, Canada's Trade Minister David Emerson said Wednesday.
So Canada plans to do something about it by making the region a key priority this year and launching formal free trade talks with several more Latin American countries, he said.
But Emerson, who spoke to the annual Conference on the Americas at the U.S. State Department, noted there have been some bumps when it comes to trade with countries that already have deals with the United States.
“We've encountered some situations . . . where Canadian exporters are suddenly finding themselves discriminated against in those markets,” said Emerson, who called for more compatible third-party agreements.
New Brunswick's McCain Foods, for one, has been concerned about “not having the same level playing field and fair access” as the United States in Central America.
Bilateral deals “wouldn't necessarily have to be identical,” he said after his speech, “but you would have definition of things, like how you calculate rules of origin.”
“You try as much as possible to ensure the system integrates and there aren't anomolies.”
Emerson said he's realistic about how far Canada will get given the level of protectionist sentiment in the U.S.
“We're constantly having to combat it one way or another,” he said. “Canada thinks it's probably not wise to be trying to take big steps.”
“But we should take small incremental steps in areas (where) people don't feel threatened and the obvious benefits are there.”
Canada is also worried about getting hit with new measures on food exports to the United States in light of the recent pet food recall, said Emerson. The Food and Drug Administration appointed a food safety czar this week to devise a new strategy to protect the food supply.
“We've been caught before on a variety of fees and initiatives,” said Emerson, like new agricultural inspection fees and the passport requirement for cross-border travellers.
“It's becoming a big issue.”
Canada, the United States and Mexico “have got to start to work more closely . . . so that we are not sideswiping each other on issues that are really just creating collateral damage with no particular gain.”
Canada already has bilateral trade deals with Chile and Costa Rica and an investment promotion agreement with Peru.
Free trade talks are also in the works with the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
This year, Canada wants to launch trade negotiations with the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Peru and the Caribbean Community.
Meanwhile, Ottawa expects to double trade and investment with Brazil by 2012.
While the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico is the single-largest free trade zone in the world, there's a lot more to do, Emerson said.
Vigorous regional trade is a good antidote to stiff global competition from powerhouses like China, India and the EU, the trade minister said.
“Inward-looking protectionism is the proverbial ‘finger in the dike,’” he told the conference. “It offers soothing short-term containment but the dike ultimately gives way. It's not a viable strategy.”
“Canada believes that we can set an example. We have a chance to prove that collaboration and co-operation is the best path to prosperity and . . . the reduction of poverty.”
Canadian exports in the hemisphere, excluding North America, reached C$5.6 billion last year, an increase of 13.9 per cent.
Meantime, Canadian investment has tripled over the last decade and now stands at C$100 billion in South America and the Caribbean