Over the years, I've tried on this blog to get people interested in the Canadian Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), with little apparent success. In part, that may have been because there just weren't enough cases (roughly 3 per year -- the list is here). A couple of cases per year wasn't enough for people to follow it.
But now we have a revised and improved version of this agreement, called the Canadian Free Trade Agreement. This is from the CBC:
Trade ministers gathered in Toronto Friday to congratulate each other for pledging to lower internal trade barriers that have irritated businesses for decades.
Every province and territory, as well as the federal government, has signed on to the Canada Free Trade Agreement, a new deal to co-ordinate trade across interprovincial borders and replace the limited rules put in place two decades ago that are no longer up to the job.
Will people take more of an interest in this new agreement? Perhaps they will if there are more disputes now, which there may be, for at least two reasons.
First, the scope of coverage is said to be broader, with more areas of trade liberalized.
And second, one of the impediments to individuals bringing cases has been removed (most of the AIT cases were brought by provinces, not individuals). In the AIT, complaints by individuals had to be "screened" first (see Article 1712). Is it possible this acted as a deterrent to bringing cases? People who practiced in this area may be able to weigh in on this. In the CFTA, by contrast, there is no such screening mechanism. If you want to bring a case, you can. With enough publicity, maybe individuals and companies will make greater use of the new procedure.
Beyond disputes, there is also this:
The deal sets up a new panel to review, prioritize and eventually standardize longstanding inconsistencies that add costs and hassle when businesses operate outside their home province.
It's expected to look at things like:
- Harmonizing or recognizing equivalent safety standards for cross-border industries like transportation.
- Standardizing labelling, packaging and classification rules for consumer products, to make it easier to sell goods across the country.
- Common recognition of credentials and qualifications for professionals and tradespeople, making it less expensive and easier for Canadians to work in more than one part of the country.
- Long-term liberalization goals for sectors where provinces hold local monopolies, like alcohol distribution, or impose licensing restrictions, like financial services.
But none of these changes will happen with the simple stroke of ministers' pens Friday.
A long reconciliation process lies ahead. And it doesn't require unanimity, calling into question whether this standardization can be truly effective if provinces are still free to opt out of a harmonized regulation they don't like.
This may be more challenging than handling disputes, but it will be interesting to see if they make progress.