Manitoba should join other western provinces in a push to remove trade barriers between provinces, such as needless red tape, Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said Wednesday.
"Manitoba is a trading province and every opportunity that we have to do business with our neighbours in an east-westerly direction is a good thing for our economy," he said.
Western premiers, led by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, want a national free-trade deal to replace the 20-year-old Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT).
Pallister said the three premiers, members of what's called the New West Partnership, signed a letter to Premier Greg Selinger last week to promote a new free-trade partnership that would lessen interprovincial restrictions on job mobility and the movement of goods.
"We could even further diversify our province's economy with the opportunities that we can achieve through better trade, more open trade with our neighbours," Pallister said, adding some small-business owners have told him it's easier to do business in the United States than with other provinces.
"That reality can't continue to exist in a modern Manitoba," he said.
Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald was unavailable to comment Wednesday.
However, Housing Minister Peter Bjornson, the former entrepreneurship, training and trade minister, said Manitoba is already involved in the effort to remove trade barriers.
He pointed out Oswald is the chairwoman of the committee on internal trade representing all provinces and territories at the negotiating table with the federal government.
Bjornson said there is full mobility for more than 280 professions for people coming to Manitoba under changes made by the province under the AIT during the past few years.
"Mr. Pallister's vision is somewhat dated if you're looking at sub-regional trade agreements over national trade agreements," Bjornson said.
The federal government says nearly 40 per cent of Canada's trade occurs within its borders and the creation of a new internal trade plan, outlined in the Harper government's economic action plan 2014, would identify barriers to domestic trade.
Some estimates say internal trade barriers cost Canada's economy as much as $50 billion a year.
The premiers are to discuss Ottawa's plan at the first ministers meeting in Charlottetown next month.