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Three western premiers want overhaul of internal trade deal with all provinces

REGINA - The leaders of three western provinces want to overhaul an agreement on internal trade.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and B.C. Premier Christy Clark have sent a letter to other premiers saying it's time for a more modern approach.

The three premiers say removing trade barriers would reduce the costs of doing business and help provincial economies grow.

"The new agreement and free trade deal with the European Union, for example, would provide for open procurement with Canadian provinces even though we're not providing each other with open procurement," Wall said Wednesday in Regina.

"Arguably, it's easier for a company in the United States to bid on government procurement in Canada than it is for some Canadian companies to bid in other jurisdictions in our own country. This doesn't make any sense."

The premiers say in the letter that the current Agreement on Internal Trade, which came into effect in 1995, allows "anti-free trade behaviour which puts us on a slippery slope to protectionism."

Wall said the old agreement takes the approach that every sector of the economy is protected unless an exception is added in.

He said a new Canada free trade zone would flip that around to say that everything is subject to free trade between the provinces unless exceptions are negotiated.

"It's just time in our country that we have the kind of free trade we expect with other countries. We should have that between provinces," he said.

"We know that freer trade is not perfect, but it's better than protectionism. It's better for the economy and we'd like to see that."

Wall said one of the early winners would be the transportation sector.

For example, he said a partnership between B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan has already made it easier for trucks to transport goods because the trucking regulations were harmonized between the provinces.

Wall, Hancock and Clark say in the letter that they want to see a commitment for change when all the premiers meet in Charlottetown in August.

Their push should get support from the federal government.

Small Business Minister Maxime Bernier has said liberalized trade, both internally and externally, is an important factor in the success of small firms and entrepreneurs.

Bernier said last month that while Canada is moving aggressively to remove foreign barriers, it must also tear down walls between provinces as well.

Industry Minister James Moore has declared removing domestic barriers to internal trade a priority and made a cross-country tour to promote the idea.

Moore said it should not be easier to trade with international partners than within our own borders.

By some estimates, protectionist policies and lack of labour mobility between provinces costs the economy about $50 billion annually through higher prices, inefficiencies and lost business.

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