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Tories move to enact free-trade deals with Jordan, Panama

A ship goes thru the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal in 2009.


The Harper government has introduced bills to enact free-trade deals with countries in the Middle East and Central America, part of a mad scramble to sew up preferential commercial relationships and spur economic growth.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast tabled legislation Tuesday that would implement trade liberalization agreements with Panama and Jordan.

"Free-trade agreements with Jordan and Panama are a key part of our government's job-creating, pro-trade plan to protect and increase the prosperity of hard-working Canadians," Mr. Fast said.

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Existing trade with Jordan and Panama is paltry compared to commerce between Canada and the United States but the Harper government has taken an every-bit-counts approach to opening new markets.

The Conservatives have yet to sign a major trade deal, however, and talks underway to strike agreements with the European Union and India will be major tests of its ability to secure new opportunities for Canadian business.

Global efforts to sign a multi-country deal through the World Trade Organization have stumbled since 2003 and in recent years individual countries have instead hurried to ink one-one-one agreements that give each other special access to their markets.

Free-trade agreements with Jordan and Panama were signed back in June 2009 and May 2010 respectively and the new legislation will make them law.

In 2010, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Panama totalled $213.7-million. That same year, bilateral goods trade between Canada and Jordan totalled $86-million.

After coming into force, the Canada-Jordan deal will eliminate tariffs on the vast majority of Canadian exports to Jordan. Key sectors that will benefit from duty-free access to the Jordanian market include forestry and manufacturing, as well as agricultural products and agri-foods such as frozen potato products and beef.

Similarly, the Canada-Panama agreement will cancel tariffs on over 99 per cent of Canadian non-agriculture exports. Investment provisions in the deal will increase protections for Canadian investors in Panama.

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Plus, Canadians will be able to bid on Panama's government procurement market, including the $5.4-billion expansion of the Panama Canal.

In less than six years, the Harper government has concluded six free trade agreements with nine countries including Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru and the European Free Trade Association states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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