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Canada's international trade minister denounces protectionism as job killer

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan arrives to address the International Economic Forum of the Americas Wednesday, June 13, 2012 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - Free and open trade, rather than protectionism, is the best way to secure a global recovery and create jobs, International Trade Minister Ed Fast told a Montreal economic conference Wednesday.

In a speech to the International Economic Forum of the Americas, Fast said Canada must improve its access to growing markets around the world, particularly in Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.

Canada's government also hopes to conclude the world's largest free-trade agreement with the European Union by the end of this year, he added.

Fast said people who deny the benefits of trade wilfully ignore the foundation of Canadian prosperity and its history.

"At its very heart, the anti-trade opposition lacks faith that Canada can succeed in the global economy," Fast told delegates to the 18th annual Conference of Montreal.

"They represent a Canada that cowers in the face of competition. A Canada that lacks confidence."

Fast said they used "fear-mongering and falsehood" when they attempted to block the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the followup NAFTA agreement that added Mexico to the mix and now Canada's negotiations with the European Union.

Historically, the outcry against free trade has diminished over the past three decades.

There was intense opposition to the free-trade negotiations with the United States in the 1980s, but the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney campaigned successfully in support of the issue and completed the deal.

There was a smaller outcry around the NAFTA, begun by the PCs but kept by the Liberals when they returned to power under Jean Chretien, who spent much of his time as prime minister promoting international trade.

Canada's negotiations with the European Union have generated little public debate, in contrast to the previous major free trade talks or to the current attention focused on the EU's ongoing debt crisis and economic decline.

The Canadian Auto Workers union has tried to convince Conservative and Liberal governments that countries such as Japan and South Korea should fully open their markets to Canadian autos as a precondition of lowering trade barriers.

However, the CAW's publicity campaigns have largely been ignored.

Fast said Wednesday that Canadian workers and businesses have gained preferred access and a real competitive advantage in markets around the world.

"We look beyond our borders for new horizons, because we believe that Canadians can compete with the very best in the world, and win," Fast added.

Like hockey players, Canada's best of honing its competitive trading skills is playing the very best opponents.

"Similarly, international competition helps strengthen Canadian businesses —- making them more productive, more innovative and more responsive to customer needs."

Since 2006, when the Conservatives came to power, Canada has concluded free trade agreements with nine countries — Colombia, Jordan, Panama, Peru, the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and Honduras.

It is also deepening trade ties with the world's fastest growing markets in the world in such countries as Brazil, China and India.

Canada also became the first tariff-free manufacturing zone in the G20 with the elimination of over 1,800 tariffs on imported machinery, equipment and manufacturing inputs.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan will be the keynote speaker on the third day of the Conference of Montreal.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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