Picture Credit – Trade Minister Cliff Cullen announces Manitoba’s support for the Canada Free Trade Agreement Friday at hydraulic cylinder manufacturer Monarch Industries Ltd. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A new interprovincial trade deal is about to make Manitoba-based businesses more competitive on the national and international stage, provincial Trade Minister Cliff Cullen says.

Manitoba signed on to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement with other provinces and territories Friday. Cullen said it will make it easier for Manitoba businesses to access opportunities that exist in other provinces.

“The CFTA means better jobs for Manitobans, a stronger economy for Manitoba and better access to goods and services across our country,” Cullen said.

“This historic agreement will enhance the free movement of goods, open markets for service suppliers, strengthen investment commitments and improve access to government procurement opportunities across the country.”

The deal replaces the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), which was viewed by some as outdated and limited in scope.

The CFTA extends coverage from the 11 sectors covered on AIT to nearly all economic sectors in Canada. “[This means] there won’t be any gaps and that everybody will know what the rules are,” Cullen said.

Cullen said aspects of the trade deal will keep governments from imposing technical regulations to “create unreasonable and unnecessary obstacles to trade.”

The agreement could also increase trade transparency and create a more efficient dispute resolution process for business owners who claim to have been treated unfairly in a deal.

‘Negative list’

The CFTA is based on a comprehensive “negative list” approach that applies to all government measures unless specifically exempt in rare cases. “I assure you Manitoba will have the fewest exemptions of any other jurisidiction to allow for the free-flow of goods and services,” Cullen said.

Cullen said Manitoba businesses accounted for $18.8 billion in exports to other provinces and territories in 2015, which translates to 52 per cent of overall exports or almost 30 per cent of provincial GDP.

The latest trade deal is also meant to modernize Canada’s international commitments so they better align with trade deals such as the Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

“Without this new agreement Canadians would have more open trade with Europe than with other Canadian provinces and territories,” Cullen said. “We could’ve faced a ridiculous situation where it would’ve been easier for companies to do business with Norway rather than Newfoundland and that clearly wouldn’t make any sense.”

A CFTA review panel will focus on things like standardizing labelling and packaging classification rules for consumer products, harmonizing interprovincial safety standards and finding ways to make it cheaper and easier for Manitobans to work in more than one province.

‘Fighting the red-tape’

Keystone Agricultural Producers and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business applauded the new agreement.

KAP president Dan Mazier said Canada imports more than $47 billion in meat, grain and vegetables from countries around the world every year.

Mazier said 90 per cent of CFIB members wanted Canada’s premiers to step up and commit to reducing red tape that got in the way of business.

“We are pleased this new deal has the comprehensiveness and transparency needed to continue fighting the red-tape barriers that undermine prosperity for businesses across the country,” Mazier said in a statement.

Pallister was absent during the Friday announcement and also wasn’t present for at a press conference where the province revealed it will close three Winnipeg emergency rooms in an effort to streamline access to health-care.