James Moore: Trade barriers 'the perfect storm of dumb'

Federal Industry Minister says provinces should agree to freely trade with each other

VANCOUVER — Federal Industry Minister James Moore says trade barriers between provinces are “the perfect storm of dumb.”

Moore made the remark Friday to business leaders after a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, saying provinces should agree to freely trade with each other.

The minister has been pushing for an interprovincial trade agreement between premiers across Canada by the end of the year.

He said in his speech that it’s easier for provinces to sell goods abroad than to each other.

“Today we provide greater trade benefits to foreigners,” he said.

Moore said it doesn’t make sense for businesses to complain about competition between provinces because they’re already competing with companies abroad through international trade agreements.

“Competition is there internationally. It’s just not from other Canadians.”

“They are having to compete with Budweiser and they are having to compete with international brands and they have to do it all the time,” Moore said of provinces. “They’re just not having to compete with other Canadian brands. Well, that’s really dumb.”

Critics have called Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade, which governs trade between provinces, ineffective because it hasn’t increased business and several provinces such as B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan have called for interprovincial trade.

Moore gave examples of conflicting regulations between provinces to illustrate how trade is being stifled.

Different rules for the weight and height of trucks make it challenging to simply drive a semi between provinces, he said.

Moore said conflicting regulations for beer-bottle sizes differed by millimetres, preventing liquor companies from selling their product in other provinces.

He said Newfoundland and Labrador regulated beer-bottle sizes because businesses were threatened by competition from other provinces. By lobbying government to change the size of the bottles by a fraction, Moore said, those companies blocked competitors.

Werner Antweiler, a professor at the University of B.C.’s business school, said milk, alcohol and labour are most affected by trade barriers between provinces.

He said consumers could expect to find more varieties of milk and alcohol at cheaper prices if provinces forge a trade agreement.

People could also find work in different parts of the country more easily because a change in regulations would probably address labour accreditation, Antweiler said.

The current system means it’s hard for people to get their accreditation recognized in another province. he said.

Antweiler applauded the federal government’s move to remove the barriers, but noted it is mainly up to the provinces to strike down the obstacles.

“What the federal government can do is essentially be the cheerleader and try to get the parties to talk.”