Van Loan promotes free trade with Europe

Canada’s minister of international trade, Peter Van Loan, was busy courting the countries of the European Union (EU) while on a jaunt that took him to Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. In a July 16 teleconference from the Romanian capital of Bucharest, Van Loan assured that he was taking every opportunity to remind “our European business partners the many advantages of doing business in Canada.”

Throughout his travels, the minister met with an array of government officials and business leaders. Most interesting, however, is that these leaders hail from the continent’s East particularly because historically, political differences left the former Eastern Bloc countries removed from international trade and beyond the reach of Western-style capitalism.

Referring to half a century of communist isolation, Van Loan explained that Europe’s East had been left out of “achieving the kind of equivalent growth and prosperity of the rest of their European brethren.” Until now, Van Loan furthered, such advantages were only enjoyed by the likes of “France, most of Germany, and the United Kingdom.”

Today, this relatively untapped region is home to a consistently high level of economic growth – between five and 10 per cent annually. According to Van Loan, these countries are posting economic figures “similar to that which you see in developing economies and the BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India and China.” Impressive economic statistics, compounded with the region’s 100 million-strong population, has enabled this high-growth area to capture Canada’s attention.

As newfound members of the EU, these former East-Bloc countries are a crucial part of Canada’s effort to negotiate a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the union. The ongoing negotiations mark Canada’s largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to Van Loan, the outcome of the talks holds great potential to spur job creation and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Not surprisingly, Van Loan faced tough questions on whether negotiations with the BRIC countries, South America and even Asia may be more fruitful than those currently in the works with Europe. The minister explained that Canada recognizes “the EU as our second biggest trading partner, as the second biggest economy in the world, as the largest investor in the world.”

Albeit optimistically, Van Loan stated that a Canadian-Europe agreement, which he prefers to call “Free Trade with Europe,” holds great potential. Citing a 2008 study which predicted that an agreement would boost bilateral trade by some 38 billion dollars, the minister concluded that free trade would provide significant economic benefits in Canada and Europe alike.