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Canadian cities object to trade pact with EU

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OTTAWA -- As Canada and the European Union negotiate final details on a free-trade deal expected to be completed this year, dozens of communities across the country are voicing major concerns or seeking exemptions from the pact.

The Conservative government, however, says the provinces support it and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities recognizes the deal would produce economic benefits across Canada.

Yet, dozens of cities and towns -- including major centres such as Toronto, Mississauga and Hamilton in Ontario -- have passed motions highlighting their concerns with the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), with many asking for permanent exemptions.

Most of the communities are worried provisions in the agreement on government procurement will restrict their decision-making capabilities and hurt their local economies.

They want more details from the federal government and argue the trade deal could limit their abilities to adopt 'buy local' procurement policies, create jobs and enforce some environmental standards.

"There's some uneasiness that rests with some of them," Berry Vrbanovic, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said Monday.

"Some of the motions are really becoming an expression of urgency from their point of view, in terms of what's being expected by local governments."

Leaked documents have indicated contracts worth more than $340,000 for goods and services and $8.5 million for construction would be subject to CETA tendering and rules, and open for challenge by European companies if they felt they were being excluded.

The City of Toronto voted overwhelmingly recently to have the Ontario government negotiate a permanent exemption from the trade agreement for the municipality. It also called on the provincial government to protect the powers of public agencies such as hospitals, school boards and universities.

Just last week, Mississauga city council also voted to ask the provincial government for an exemption from CETA, which is the most significant trade deal Canada has negotiated since the North American Free Trade Agreement. Hamilton previously passed a similar resolution requesting an exemption from CETA.

"In the absence of clear information being communicated from the federal government and provinces and territories, this is what you're seeing play out at the municipal level," Vrbanovic added.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast stresses the federal government will only sign CETA if it's ultimately in the country's best interests and maintains it won't restrict communities' ability to contract local companies and create jobs.

The federal government has regularly consulted communities during the negotiating process and will continue to do so for areas that fall wholly or partly under municipal jurisdiction, he said. "An agreement with the EU would not affect the ability of municipalities to use selection criteria such as quality, price, technical requirements or relevant experience, or to consider social and environmental factors in the procurement process," Fast said Monday in an emailed statement.

"A trade agreement with the EU will preserve the ability of governments to give preferences to hometown companies, through various instruments, such as grants, loans and fiscal incentives."

Mayors in Atlantic Canada, meanwhile, last week complained they have been shut out of talks and demanded they be included in the discussions. They're worried the trade pact could clash with long-established domestic procurement policies.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2012 B5

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