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Canada's trade activity in the Americas

Peter Van Loan

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, Canada has created new economic opportunities for Canadians through free trade. Our government has embarked on an aggressive free trade agenda, with the Americas as a focus. In fact, starting on the foundation of our original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the U.S. and Mexico, Canada is now engaged in opening markets and freeing trade in almost every country of the Americas.

Since 2006, we have implemented free trade with Peru, passed a free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia and signed one with Panama. We are exploring opportunities with Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) member countries —Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. We are also engaged in trade talks with four Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Free trade discussions are also underway with the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). What is more, we are now working on broadening our existing first generation of trade agreements with Chile and Costa Rica.

As Minister of International Trade, I recently undertook a five-day trade visit to Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica. Our government is committed to opening markets and expanding trade, and is looking at the Americas —our own hemisphere— as key. We believe that opening markets, not imposing protectionist measures, is the way to greater prosperity, especially in a period of economic recovery. 

On Aug. 1, 2009, a FTA between Canada and Peru entered into force. Already, trade between our two countries has jumped impressively. As soon as the agreement was implemented, Peru immediately eliminated its tariffs on nearly 95 per cent of Canadian exports, with the remaining tariffs scheduled to be eliminated over a five- to 10-year period. Commodities that are now duty free include: wheat, barley, lentils, peas, selected boneless beef cuts, as well as many paper products, machinery and equipment. Consumers and businesses will realize the dividends immediately and cumulatively as we continue to enrich our trade activity. 

After extensive debate in Canada’s House of Commons, the FTA with Colombia was passed by Parliament and received royal assent on June 30, 2010. The implementation of the agreement still awaits ratification on the Colombian side, but once implemented, it will provide a wide range of benefits for Canadian businesses, including the elimination of the majority of tariffs on non-agriculture products. The Canada-Colombia FTA is yet another lucrative, mutually beneficial foothold achieved as our government forges ahead to open trade in key global markets.

While visiting Chile and Costa Rica, I witnessed the benefits of our FTAs in fostering greater economic co-operation. In Costa Rica, I signed a Youth Mobility Agreement that will allow youth from Canada and Costa Rica to live, work or travel in the other country for up to one year. This agreement will increase people-to-people exchanges that strengthen trade and economic ties between our two countries.

On May 14, 2010, I had the pleasure of signing a FTA with Panama. This agreement will enhance economic prosperity, help businesses and create jobs, all of which are vital to our economic recovery. Bilateral trade between our two countries in 2009 totalled $132.1 million, showing the importance of this relationship. Once the deal is implemented, exporters will enjoy the elimination of a wide range of tariffs on goods, such as: agriculture and agri-food products; pharmaceuticals; wood, pulp and paper products; electrical and industrial machinery; vehicles and auto parts; information and communication technology; aerospace; plastic products; fish and seafood; and iron and steel products. This market, positioned stategically in the gateway to South America via the Panama Canal, represents a key area for the expansion of trade between our two countries, and the region. 

Continued engagement with Latin America is a priority of the Government of Canada. The Americas are our neighbourhood and represent an opportunity to show leadership in trade. Our track record over the past four years is proof of this. We can point to an impressive record of free trade deals with more on the way, as we continue to move forward in opening up trade and commerce with our partners in the Americas. Our strategy is working. 

The Honourable Peter Van Loan is Canada's Minister of International Trade.

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