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Lack of data yet another barrier to interprovincial trade

The Conservative government's new push to sign free trade deals has exposed the persistent barriers that thwart commerce at home.

But one of the key challenges to fixing the problem is the absence of good data on what it's all costing the Canadian economy.

Internal trade barriers inflate costs anywhere from $3-billion to $49-billion a year, according to a report released Monday by the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.

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The result is that policy makers are flying blind.

"Policy makers have often had to rely on anecdotal evidence that is often misinformed, biased and dated," the report said. "As a result, it has been difficult to clearly identify solutions or accurately evaluate the impact that policies are having on internal trade flows."

And that's nearly 20 years after the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) came into force.

The report contains a dozen recommendations to improve trade within the country, including putting more money into internal trade statistics.

Among the report's other recommendations:

– Ottawa and the provinces should draft a work plan for improving trade and strengthening the AIT.

– Provincial premiers should give their internal trade ministers the power to negotiate improvements to the agreement.

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– Extend beyond one year the chairmanship of the AIT, which now rotates between the provinces and the federal government

– Abandon consensus decision-making in favour of the majority rule used within the Europe Union.

– Give more resources to the Winnipeg-based AIT secretariat, which has been gutted in recent years.

– Better align the AIT with international agreements, such as the recently negotiated Canada-Europe free trade deal.

– Create a one-stop shop for registering businesses in Canada.

– Embrace the "negative list" principle, which stipulates that all commerce is free unless specifically exempted from the deal, rather than the reverse, which prevails now.

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The report summarizes many of the finding of a series of reports commissioned for a symposium held last year.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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