Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue joined a group of provincial business leaders to make one point clear - a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union will benefit Newfoundland and Labrador.
"That's why we're pursuing the most ambitious trade plan in Canada's history - a plan that includes a trade agreement with the European Union," said the Labrador MP, who held a press conference inside the assembly plant of Rutter Technologies in St. John's Friday.
Negotiations continue between Canada and the European Union for a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) covering not only goods, but also investment, services and provincial and municipal government procurement.
A Canadian Press story published earlier this week quoted the head of the EU council saying talks on an agreement are nearing the "end game."
Penashue cited a joint study with the EU that stated an agreement would boost Canada's total trade with the EU by as much as 20 per cent, growing the country's economy by $12 billion in the process.
"That translates to an increase of $1,000 to the average Canadian Family's average income, or 80,000 new jobs across the country," said Penashue.
Complaints have been made in the past about what the deal might mean for Canadian jobs.
At a meeting held in St. John's last summer by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Council of Canadians, concerns were raised about the potential for government liability on actions affecting the bottom line of foreign companies. It was also suggested that European companies could compete for the control of public services, leading to the privatization of such services.
The North American Free Trade Agreement did wonders for the continent, according to David Haire of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Newfoundland and Labrador. He said it allowed companies in Mexico, the United States and Canada to work as part of an integrated supply chain.
"CETA can help our members grow their business in Europe and attract global production of research mandates to Canada," he said, adding that any agreement must have a net economic benefit to Canadian manufacturers and exporters.
Rutter Technologies president and CEO Fraser Edison said his company does not do much business within the province, instead relying on global markets. It employs 110 people inside its plant and within the company's research and development department.
"International trade is a very important part of the economy and certainly a very important part for (our business)," he said.
Approximately 60 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product stems from international trade, accounting for one in five jobs across the country, according to International Trade Canada.
St. John's Board of Trade chair Steve Power said Canada must ensure the provinces and territories have a say in the formation of any trade agreement made with the EU.
"This country is too big for processes like this not to have representation from other levels of government," he said.
"While we have many commonalities, the reality is that the needs of British Columbia, for instance, are different from Newfoundland and Labrador."
He added this is especially pertinent to Newfoundland and Labrador, given it is the eastern gateway to Europe and its closest neighbour.
Power also made note of the skilled labour shortages existing in the province.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business spokesman Bradley George said overseas trade is important to small and medium-sized businesses, adding that he hopes the new agreement will harmonize regulations and reduce paperwork for those looking to conduct business overseas.
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