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Politics Federal government to spend $2-billion on national trade corridor

The container ship Zim Antwerp arrives in Halifax on Thursday June 29, 2017. At 349 metres long, the vessel is more than three times the height of Fenwick Tower, a 98-metre Halifax apartment building.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is opening the door for new infrastructure proposals as part of a $2-billion plan to reduce bottlenecks at major ports of entry and modernize the country's transportation network.

Mr. Garneau will announce Tuesday the first call for submissions for projects to build a national trade corridor aimed at helping Canadian exporters get their goods to the United States and other international markets. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 5.

"We are looking for infrastructure projects that address urgent capacity constraints and improve supply-chain performance," according to a speech Mr. Garneau will deliver to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. "These infrastructure projects will have a huge impact. They will not only create many new jobs in construction, but they will also lead to general growth through the economy."

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Eligible projects include ports, airports, roads, railways, international bridges, border crossings and many other undertakings.

A total of $2-billion over 11 years has been allocated to the trade corridor, including $400-million to support the movement of goods in the northern territories. The new $35-billion federal infrastructure bank will also invest at least $5-billion on transportation trade routes.

"We need our trade routes to be as fluid as possible. By moving goods more efficiently along supply and distribution chains, both transit time and the cost of goods will decrease," Mr. Garneau said.

Mr. Garneau said improving transportation infrastructure will boost trade with the fast-growing economies of India and China. The Liberal government is involved in exploratory free-trade talks with China.

The Canada China Business Council estimates a free-trade deal could boost Canadian exports by $7.7-billion by 2030 and create an additional 25,000 Canadian jobs.

Improving ports and rail links will also help the movement of goods to Europe, which is Canada's second-largest trading partner after the United States. Canada has concluded a sweeping free-trade deal with the European Union.

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"We must remember we can have the best quality of products and the most ambitious trade agreements in the world, but they won't matter if we don't have efficient and reliable ways to get our goods to market," Mr. Garneau said.

The government is also spending $50-million to set up a transportation information system – in partnership with Statistics Canada – to help provide companies with better data.

"We need clear and readily available information on where cargo is at any given time," Mr. Garneau said. "Having access to authoritative and consolidated data about all components of the transportation system is essential to improving it."

Mr. Garneau's efforts to create single, interconnected transportation systems are the result of year-long consultations after the release of an independent study by former cabinet minister David Emerson, who examined the country's transportation network and put forward 60 recommendations for improvements.

Mr. Emerson looked at air, marine, road and rail transportation. The study found the transportation network needed to be revamped to keep Canada competitive.

"Our global infrastructure and related rankings have been declining and Canada continues to compare less favourably to other developed nations on a number of measures – a disturbing trend for a small, open economy in which prosperity depends on success in global trade," the report said.

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There has been, for example, a doubling of goods travelling by rail and this has meant longer trains and, in some cases, double-stack containers to handle the demand. Marine traffic has grown by 50 per cent in the past three decades.

Several major infrastructure projects already under way in Canada that are improving the flow of trade include work on the port of Halifax, the $4.8-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Windsor and the Champlain Bridge in Montreal.

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