Years of negotiations may reap benefits

Threats to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement and trash the Trans-Pacific Partnership send a chill down the spines of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on trade.

And while the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump administration’s action plan is not yet clear, it is crystal clear that Canada’s past and future depend on trade.

Canada has been a trading nation throughout history with a small population and huge resources, 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. Ninety percent of our farmers depend on exports, and more than half of everything we produce goes be-yond our borders.

Competitive access to global markets is not a choice; it is a re-quirement.

Canadian agriculture produces what the world needs and is well positioned to continue.

However, 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, such as Australia, which already has agreements with Japan and China.

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.

We can take some of the lessons learned and apply them to the TPP and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

Pundits were sounding the death knell on the European deal after Belgium threatened to scuttle the deal. However, leaders standing up for growth through trade prevailed, and an accord that can benefit all parties is on its way.

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, the opportunities also grow because of the other countries lining up to join, such as the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Significant growth potential makes better access to markets in Asia more compelling than in other parts of the world.

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

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 Bill Morneau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, has said Canada could easily add $20 billion to its gross domestic product if the country recaptures third place in the world’s top agri-food exporting countries.

That’s on top of the $106.9 billion the sector already contributes to the economy.

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

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