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Removing internal-trade barriers could be a boon for Canada's agri-food sector: Senators Black and Griffin
January 27, 2020
OPINION
image Robert Black
Robert Black
CSG - (Ontario)
image Diane F. Griffin
Diane F. Griffin
CSG - (Prince Edward Island)

Since this year's federal election, Canadians have been engaging in important discussions regarding intergovernmental relations. Perhaps unexpectedly, these discussions tie into recent work done by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

Canada is a diverse country with an excellent reputation for the food we produce. Each province has wonderful agricultural products to brag about: Alberta beef, Saskatchewan canola, and P.E.I. potatoes, to name a few. However, for decades, Canada's interprovincial trade has been impeded. Why can we go to the liquor store in Prince Edward Island and buy wines from France, Australia and South Africa, but not from Nova Scotia? Our current system is mired in inconsistent regulations that keep the provinces from being able to trade easily and freely, as was intended at the time of Confederation.

Last July, our committee published a report entitled, Made in Canada: Growing Canada's Value-Added Food Sector. The report echoes the findings of the government's Advisory Council on Economic Growth, chaired by Dominic Barton, which identified agriculture as one of the industries in which Canada has the most room to grow.

After hearing from witnesses from all areas of the agriculture and agri-food sectors across Canada over the course of a year, we developed nine recommendations for the federal government. The ball is now in the government's court; we hope it will take concrete steps to implement our recommendations, and soon.

Many of those recommendations address problems with internal trade in Canada. Our report's second recommendation aims to address transportation issues that slow down trade between provinces.

In order to increase the efficiency of the trucking industry, we suggest the twinning of Alberta Highway 40 and Quebec Highway 185 between Saint-Antonin and Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, and that the federal government work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to harmonize regulations. According to the current rules, trucks must stop to change tires between certain provinces because of inconsistent regulations on tire sizes. Certain trucking configurations are only allowed on British Columbia roads at night and on Alberta roads during the day, causing drivers to wait at the border for several hours.

Our ninth recommendation urges the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that laws, regulations and policies enhance trade between provinces and territories. We do have an interprovincial trade agreement that came into force in 2017, the Canadian Free Trade Agreement. However, that agreement has not been able to reduce and eliminate obstacles to trade between provinces. These barriers result in higher costs of doing business across provinces and less competitiveness in the agri-food sector.

Canada has engaged in several major trade agreements around the world, including the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, yet we still have major barriers to trade within our own borders. Allowing producers and processors fair access to domestic markets across provincial borders would allow them to scale up and thus be more competitive abroad as well.

Other recommendations address broader challenges for Canadian agriculture and agri-food industries. Canada is known for its quality agricultural products; however, by processing only half of those raw products before exporting them, we are forfeiting a huge amount of potential profit. If we add value to our products before they leave our country (by exporting apple cider instead of apples, bread instead of wheat, or cranberry juice instead of cranberries), the agricultural industry stands to become much more profitable.

If Canada hopes to be a major player in international markets, we must first address our concerns at home. We have an amazing diversity of agri-food products across our country, but so long as inconsistent regulations burden our internal trade, we will continue to suffer economically in domestic and international markets.

 

Senators Robert Black and Diane F. Griffin represent, respectively, Ontario and Prince Edward Island in the Senate.

This article was published in the January 14, 2020, edition of The Hill Times.