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Charest and Doer to EU: The provinces really do want this economic partnership agreement

Premiers Jean Charest and Gary Doer are on a mission in Europe this week to convince EU trade officials that the provinces are 100 per cent on board plans to forge an economic partnership agreement with Canada. Europe needs provincial approval because so much of what it is asking for involves binding sub-national governments, including cities, to international trade restrictions on government services and procurement. So it’s interesting to see Charest clinging to Quebec’s provincial securities regulator as “provincial jurisdiction” when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is so desperately trying to create a national regulator.

CERT President Roy MacLaren with Canadian and European leaders
and trade officials (from CERT website)

Doer and Charest’s trip to Europe is strictly business in more than one sense. The Quebec premiers’s media statement about the trip highlights their participation in an environmental summit organized by The Climate Group, an odd corporate-government mix with a few major polluters thrown in for good measure. You can read the group’s principles here.

But the premiers will also join Roy MacLaren, chairman of Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business, on stage at a June 29 panel discussion on the Canada-EU Economic Partnership Agreement organized by the Centre for European Policy Studies. CERT has been a major booster of free trade negotiations with Europe, which began in earnest at the Canada-EU Summit last month in Prague, and members frequently shadow official joint government meetings to provide input on business priorities.

For instance, on May 6 a coalition Canadian and European business lobby groups, including CERT, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, BUSINESSEUROPE and the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic put out a joint release stating:

The proposed EU-Canada economic agreement should set a new benchmark for bilateral economic integration. Business groups on both sides of the Atlantic believe strongly that the agreement should be of the highest standard and should be concluded within two years. Negotiators should ensure that it secures real market access for goods, services and investments and includes an ambitious regulatory cooperation agenda.

Securities regulation vs. sub-national procurement

At the top of Europe’s demands for Canada is that sub-national governments be subjected to the same international trade restrictions that our federal government agreed to in NAFTA and the WTO. According to a scoping group paper guiding Canada-EU negotiations:

…any agreement should substantially improve access to public procurement markets aiming to achieve full coverage of central and sub-central government procurement in all sectors, to ensure inter alia treatment no less favourable than that accorded to locally-established suppliers.

In other words, while Charest is up in arms over surrendering jurisdiction on securities regulation, he and 12 out of thirteen other provincial leaders are quite happy to give up their constitutional right to set conditions on provincial and municipal purchasing of goods and services. Think buy local policies are a smart idea. An EU agreement on procurement would make them near impossible.

Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, recently sent a letter to all premiers pointing this out. Updates soon on what they write back.