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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ottawa wants premiers to drop internal trade barriers as annual meeting nears

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Federal Industry Minister James Moore says he's pushing for agreement among all premiers by the end of the year to break down internal trade barriers across Canada.

"My ambition is to be very aggressive on this both in terms of time and in terms of scope," Moore said.

He made the comment after touring the local Quidi Vidi Brewing Company in St. John's, N.L., to stress how provincial regulations block the export of beer and other products around the country.

Moore said he hopes premiers will emerge united to promote more free trade across provincial boundaries when they hold their annual meeting at the end of the month in P.E.I.

"We can act unilaterally in some regards," he said when asked whether Ottawa would impose changes if talks stall.

But Moore said he's encouraged by recent steps in the right direction. He cited increased labour mobility between Ontario and Quebec and in Atlantic Canada, along with a joint letter last month from the premiers of Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. calling for a knock-down of trade barriers.

The almost 20-year-old Agreement on Internal Trade came into effect when Canada had free-trade deals with two countries.

Today, Canada has pacts with more than 40 countries. Free trade with Europe, if finalized as part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA, would offer more foreign access to some Canadian markets than now exists domestically, Moore said.

"It's, to me, critical that we have as much economic opportunity for Canadians within Canada as we do have trade opportunities around the world.

"I certainly hope that before the end of the year we'll have a clear consensus amongst all provinces to move forward."

Premier Tom Marshall of Newfoundland and Labrador met Friday with Moore and said his province is on board.

"It seems a bit ridiculous that we have rights under foreign agreements and that we don't have the same rights under our own agreement of internal trade with other provinces," he said in an interview.

"When CETA's approved we'll be able to sell into Europe but not necessarily be able to sell into other provinces. So it's time for the agreement to be modernized."

Follow @suebailey on Twitter.

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