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International Trade Minister Ed Fast speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 7, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters)
International Trade Minister Ed Fast speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 7, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Trade Minister fills his dance card at WTO talks Add to ...

It’s like speed-dating, only the talk is trade not romance.

And over the next few days in Geneva, Switzerland, that’s what International Trade Minister Ed Fast will be doing – looking for partners and romancing other countries as he discusses Canada’s trade deals, its policies and anti-protectionism at the World Trade Organization’s meetings.

Mr. Fast, who just took over the trade beat in May and is known on Parliament Hill for his gospel singing, has scheduled 19 meetings so far (and counting) with his international counterparts.

The meeting is being held to admit Russia to the WTO after nearly 20 years. In addition, Mr. Fast will participate in an anti-protectionism press conference with “like-minded countries” including Australia and some South American countries, according to the minister’s director of communications Adam Taylor.

But it’s on the so-called margins where Mr. Fast and Canada can make headway. Some of his meetings are simply “pull asides” in the hallways – what officials call “corridor diplomacy.” There are two of these scheduled already.

The remaining 17 meetings are more formal sit-down bilateral encounters. Flags and official photographs are involved.

“We are currently organizing more,” Mr. Taylor said. “When all is said and done, we expect Minister Fast will have met with well over 20 of his counterparts from around the world.”

His schedule – and it’s a moving target so is subject to change – shows that his dance card is pretty well booked from the moment he arrived Wednesday to his last meeting on Saturday. His officials have been working on this for the past six weeks.

On Wednesday, Mr. Fast met for half an hour with WTO director-general, Pascal Lamy. After that was a 40-minute bilateral with New Zealand’s Trade Minister.

The Canadian Press noted that Mr. Fast is “prepared to be aggressive in Canada’s approach to joining the new Trans-Pacific Partnership. Speculation had been that the U.S. and New Zealand opposed Canada’s entry into the TPP because it was reluctant to put on the table its dairy and poultry supply management system, which shields Quebec and Ontario farmers from cheaper foreign imports.”

Later Wednesday, he met with the Chinese Minister of Commerce. Since taking over as Minister after the May campaign, Mr. Fast has been to China, India and Brazil.

Thursday, Mr. Fast has six meetings – 30 minutes each with the Philippines Secretary of Trade and Industry and Britain’s Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills. There’s a 45-minute meeting planned with the Caribbean Community and 35 minutes set aside for his Australian counterpart. In addition, he’ll be chatting in the hall with Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, his counterpart from Brunei, and there’s another pull-aside with Israel’s Shalom Simhon, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour.

It’s more of the same on Friday with a bilateral meeting with his Brazilian colleague, the European Union, the Malaysians, the Vietnamese and the Costa Ricans. And that’s just the morning. In the afternoon, he’s to meet with the Mexicans, the Japanese and the Peruvians.

Then he gets to take a break until Saturday when he’s scheduled to meet with the South Koreans, where according to reports he wants to revive stalled trade negotiations, and the Indonesians. It’s his big final push before he “does some sleeping for the Christmas holidays,” Mr. Taylor joked.

And not a moment too soon...

Peter Van Loan, the Government House Leader, predicted this five-week uninterrupted run in the Commons leading to the Christmas break could lead to some cantankerous behaviour. He was right.

MPs are set to leave for a six-week holiday – but not before letting loose in the Commons over the past few weeks.

Wednesday, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau referred to the Environment Minister as a “ piece of shit.” The expletive was in reaction to Peter Kent chastising NDP environment critic Megan Leslie for not attending the Durban climate-change conference – after the government had barred the opposition from doing so.

A few weeks earlier, NDP MP Pat Martin had tweeted the F-word during a debate in the Commons. The outburst was borne of frustration with Stephen Harper’s majority government shutting down debate in the House, committees and the Senate in an effort to get its agenda through and into law.

Despite vows of civility and better behaviour, inspired by the actions and memory of the late NDP leader Jack Layton, MPs have been as raucous and rude as ever.

And so it was fitting Wednesday that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird – his tongue firmly in his cheek – intervened after the endless apologies for using unparliamentarily language, the bickering and heckling.

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to just wish everyone a merry Christmas and peace on earth,” he said and sat down.

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