Last week's announced free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union is one more step toward economic independence from the United States.
While ties with our southern neighbours will always be strong and convenient due to our proximity to such a vast market, further diversification of trade opportunities with other countries and regions can only serve to strengthen our national economy.
Historically, when the American economy coughed, Canada's would sneeze. Because of the high volume of ongoing trade between the two countries, there will always be an impact here for any slowdown south of the 49th parallel. Yet our country was able to skate through the last recession better than most because it had strengthened ties with Asia, and most notably China. Now with trade barriers lowered between the EU, it gives Canadian companies improved access to the European region, which generates $17 trillion in economic activity annually.
That means brighter prospects for Canadian companies selling products to a market of over 500 million people, as opposed to European firms looking across the Atlantic to a new market of 35 million.
It's not a great deal for everyone. It can be viewed as winwin, but also lose-lose, as most healthy negotiations go. It is good news for consumers, who have put up with much higher milk and cheese prices than what Americans have paid. For Canadian farmers? Not so good. Specific details about the agreement will be unveiled in the months to come.
This free trade agreement should be part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's legacy, in much the same way that the last Conservative PM, Brian Mulroney, had the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement atop his list of accomplishments a generation ago. For Mulroney, free trade also represented a shield that enabled him to fight successfully for his re-election. The announcement of the EU deal after much negotiation, arrives just as Harper tries to re-set the national agenda with an eye toward the next trip to the polls in 2015.
With even stronger economic opportunities west and east, Harper continues to press for a north-south outlet for Canadian crude through the proposed Keystone Pipeline.
The Energy East Pipeline provides an outlet on the Atlantic for access to European markets. The Keystone Pipeline, which is low on U.S. President Barack Obama's list of priorities, would be a huge benefit to Canada.
The ongoing protests against Canadian pipeline expansion are more than a little curious. Some of the protesting organizations that ramp up the rhetoric are funded by U.S. interests with an eye toward protecting the $35 per barrel discount the Americans currently enjoy with Canadian oil.
The Canadian government has signalled its determination to get Alberta oil sands bitumen out to the Pacific Ocean and to markets beyond by stating clearly that if the pipeline isn't built, then it will travel by railway. In other words, they're going to get it out, pipeline or not.
Canada has been taking significant strides toward loosening up restrictions on importing and exporting to get our goods to market.
The EU free trade is a step in the right direction for the future of this country. The winners? Our economy, and consumers.
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