Canada reviewing transport law to enhance trade flow

| Aug 18, 2014 3:17PM EDT

A statutory review of Canada Transportation Act dovetails with the country’s recent success in negotiating free trade agreements with the European Union and South Korea, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told port officials.

“If we are doing all of these trade agreements across the world, we need to make sure we can actually deliver the goods,” Raitt said at the Association of Canadian Port Authorities’ annual conference in Bathurst, New Brunswick.

The review of the transportation act got under way in June with the appointment of a six-member committee that will deliver its report within 18 months. The review of the law will be the first since 2001.

As transport minister, Raitt is not a participant in the independent review. However, she said she has heard “snippets” about the review panel’s work and is confident the report will provide useful recommendations to guide transportation policies and investment.

The Canadian public will be watching closely, Raitt said. When last winter’s severe weather caused rail congestion that delayed wheat shipments, the delays “became a public issue, and the public became involved.”

Canada has been moving to expand its trade beyond its current heavy reliance on the United States. Raitt said that since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, Canada has negotiated trade deals with 10 countries and is in the midst of negotiations on other agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The largest and most sweeping agreement so far has been the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU. Raitt described this agreement as “broader in scope and deeper in ambition” than the North American Free Trade Agreement of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

The Canada-EU agreement is awaiting translation and ratification. Last March, Canada and South Korea completed work on a separate major agreement.

“To succeed with this ambitious trade agenda, we have to make sure that our transportation systems here in Canada are ready,” Raitt said. “We have to be able to execute on these deals, and we have to do that with solid transportation networks.”

Canada’s primary eastern container ports, Montreal and Halifax, are hoping to capitalize on the Canada-EU trade pact.

The free trade agreements were prominent in discussion at the Association of Canadian Port Authorities conference hosted by the Port of Belledune, New Brunswick.

Charles J. McMillan, professor of international business at York University, predicted Canada’s enthusiasm for free trade will survive any future change of governments. “Canadians have really figured it out that we are better off with free trade than we would otherwise be,” he said.

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.