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Federal, provincial and territorial governments reaffirm support for CETA during Ottawa meeting

Aluki Rojas, Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Government of Nunavut; Robert Donald, Executive Director, Trade Policy, Intergovernmental Affairs, Executive Council and Office of the Premier, Government of Saskatchewan; Paul Robichaud, Minister of Economic Development, Minister responsible for La Francophonie, Deputy Premier, Government House Leader, Government of New Brunswick; Keith Hutchings, Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, Minister responsible for the Rural Secretariat and the Research & Development Corporation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Innovation, Government of British Columbia; Sam Hamad, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, Government of Quebec; Hugh Eliasson, Deputy Minister of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade, Government of Manitoba; Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Government of Canada; Sandy Stewart, Secretary of Economic, Trade and Population Secretariat, Government of Prince Edward Island; Percy Paris, Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Minister responsible for Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, Minister responsible for the Innovation Corporation Act, Minister responsible for the Gateway Initiative, Government of Nova Scotia; David Ramsay, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Minister of Transportation, Government of the Northwest Territories; Cal Dallas, Minister of Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations, Government of Alberta; Currie Dixon, Minister of Economic Development, Minister of Environment, Government of Yukon; and Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, Government of Ontario.

The heat is on… At least that’s how I’m interpreting this odd little statement from Canada’s Trade Minister, Ed Fast, and provincial and territorial ministers in Ottawa today for a pep talk on Harper’s trade agenda. The joint statement comes just a few days after an important article in the Toronto Star shed doubts from across the political spectrum about CETA’s benefits to local governments. It also follows warnings in Ontario’s Don Drummond report on balancing the provincial budget not to let a trade deal with the EU hurt provincial efforts to reduce the cost of drugs.

There is some logic to the timing of today’s unity statement. We were told by Canada’s lead CETA negotiator recently that EU negotiators are not satisfied with provincial-territorial procurement offers, which they feel don’t cover enough purchasing by utilities or of services. There’s some pressure to “improve” these offers before another negotiating round in Brussels in the middle of March where this part of the agreement is to be finalized. The federal government needs the provinces to put more on the table but that becomes difficult with cities like Toronto asking for a bit more time to see the deal and consider its consequences.

Provincial and territorial governments are also angling for a more formal role in international trade negotiations. The joint statement says, “Ministers endorsed the need for trade diversification efforts to focus on high-growth markets around the world, such as China and India, and agreed that a collaborative approach, involving the federal government, the provinces and the territories, would maximize the benefits for businesses looking to expand and succeed abroad.”

There have been suggestions the provinces could agree to accept financial responsibility for successful investor-state disputes against provincial policies in exchange for a permanent seat at the table in future trade deals. Prime Minister Harper clearly wants to move in that direction (the provincial responsibility part). But according to Canada’s lead CETA negotiator those talks haven’t progressed very far. It could end up on the agenda of the next Committee on Internal Trade meeting in Northwest Territories this June.

(This same discussion on financial responsibility for investment disputes is happening in Europe and will come to budgets and trade committee meetings at the EU this March, according to sources following the European debate on investor-state arbitration. It’s the reason investment protection in the CETA has not been discussed yet.)

A lead negotiator (internal and international trade) with the Ontario government, Gordon Jansen, will discuss what his province hopes to achieve in the CETA negotiations at a public event tonight hosted by the Canadian International Council Toronto Branch. Jansen will be joined by Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT). I’ll be there and tweeting anything interesting (follow @StuJT).

UPDATE (4:20 p.m. February 28) – CETA talks lagging, suggests Fast

Reuters is reporting that the Canada-EU trade talks may be delayed on difficult issues like patent reform. Trade Minister Ed Fast told a news conference after his meeting with provincial and territorial counterparts that, “We always said we were hoping, and it was our aim, to complete negotiations in 2012… One thing I don’t want to do is put an arbitrary time line on our negotiations. We need to negotiate the very best agreement for Canada and if that takes a couple of extra months, so be it.”