The federal, provincial and territorial governments have negotiated a new trade agreement that Premier Brian Pallister says will greatly increase opportunities for Manitoba businesses.
Negotiations are complete on the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement. A formal signing ceremony is expected to take place within days.
"This is a positive, positive piece of news for our country," Pallister said Wednesday.
The CFTA is more ambitious and comprehensive than the current Agreement on Internal Trade, which it replaces, giving Manitoba businesses far greater access to markets in other provinces — and vice versa.
Manitoba stands to benefit, Pallister said, because of the importance of trade within Canada to the province’s economy.
Interprovincial exports of goods and services — at $18.8 billion — represented 52 per cent of Manitoba exports in 2015, or almost 30 per cent of the province’s GDP.
Under the deal, "technical regulations" can’t be used by provincial and territorial governments to create unnecessary obstacles to trade, Pallister said.
Manitoba engineering or architectural firms, for example, will no longer be discriminated against because of registration barriers, he said.
Government licensing and qualification procedures will have to be transparent and impartial, creating a level playing field for companies across the country.
There will also be a quicker and more transparent dispute-resolution mechanism for businesses that feel that they’ve been treated unfairly. Fines are also being upped for non-compliance, although, Pallister said he did not have examples at his fingertips.
Also new will be the creation of a single online portal that will make it easier for businesses across Canada to see what opportunities exist in other provinces.
As well, labour will have greater mobility. Manitoba trains more people than it can employ right now — something Pallister said he wants to change. This deal, he said, will make it easier for Manitobans to obtain work in other provinces.
Pallister said the broad strokes for the agreement were hammered out at a premiers meeting in Whitehorse last July — a few months after the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives came into office.
"I actually brokered a deal between (Alberta Premier) Rachel Notley and (Quebec Premier Philippe) Couillard" that prevented talks from becoming derailed, he said. "I was really pleased to be given the opportunity to do that."
Pallister agreed to an interview Wednesday about the agreement after a cabinet order authorizing the province to sign the deal appeared on the government’s website this week.
The premier said the timing of the new Canadian internal trade agreement couldn’t be better.
He said without it, Canada ran the risk of having more open trade with Europe than between provinces and territories within our country.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, signed last October but not yet in force, will eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs between Canada and the EU.
"We could have had the incongruity of having it easier for Germany to do business in Manitoba than for Nova Scotia," the premier said. "That doesn’t make sense."
Provinces will still have the right to declare exceptions to free trade, he said, but the overall effect of the deal will be far less restrictive commerce across provincial and territorial boundaries.
Manitoba, the premier declared, would have the fewest exceptions to the free flow of goods and services of any province.