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Harvesting prosperity from seven years of negotiation

Threats to rip up NAFTA and trash the TPP send a chill down the spines of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on trade.

While the Trump administration’s action plan is not yet clear, it is crystal clear that Canada’s past and future depend on trade.

Throughout history with a small population and huge resources, Canada has been a trading nation and that’s not going to change.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our agriculture and agri-food sector. Just as there weren’t enough Canadians to buy beaver felt hats, there’s no way we could eat what Canadian farmers produce.

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Competitive access to global markets is not a choice, it is a requirement.

Canadian agriculture produces what the world needs and is well positioned to continue. But we can’t thrive if trade barriers prevent us from being competitive with others who have preferential access because their governments have been better at reaching trade agreements.

Canada needs to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers through free trade agreements. And there is currently no better plan than the TPP.

If the Trump administration turns its back on TPP, then Canada has an opportunity to lead like-minded countries on a new approach. While the current text of the TPP requires the U.S. to participate, if it doesn’t, why not take the fruit from seven years of negotiations and make it work for the other 11 countries?

We’ve already seen how Canada can lead by successfully signing the trade agreement with Europe. Pundits were sounding the death knell on the European deal after Belgium threatened to scuttle the deal. But leaders standing up for growth through trade prevailed. We can do the same thing with TPP.

Eight out of the 12 signatories have the agreement in front of their parliaments, and Japan has already passed it in its lower house. Canada needs to follow suit and show that making trade freer based on 21st-century rules is the way to go.

Beyond the immediate advantages from TPP members, with other countries lining up to join the opportunities grow too. The Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia have all expressed an interest in joining. With significant growth potential, better access to markets in Asia is more compelling than in other parts of the world.

When leaders stand up for free trade and explain the benefits to those who would block it, job creation, economic growth and community development are the proven positive outcomes.

It’s not just farmers and food processors who benefit. Communities in urban and rural areas do better when we have better access to foreign markets.

Dominic Barton, chair of Finance Minister Morneau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth has said that, if Canada recaptures third place in the world’s top agri-food exporting countries, we could easily add $20 billion to our Gross Domestic Product. That’s on top of the $106.9 billion the sector already contributes to the economy.

Canada needs to embrace freer trade in the Asia-Pacific according to 21st-century rules to fire up the engine that is free trade. Leading discussions on how to implement TPP and harvest prosperity from seven years of negotiation is a prudent path for Prime Minister Trudeau at the APEC meeting this week.

Brian Innes is president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA).

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