It’s getting to be a rarer sight – Conservative MP Ed Fast enjoying some free time in his home riding.
Just over two years ago, Abbotsford’s representative in the House of Commons was given the title of Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. Since that appointment, life has changed for Fast.
His first year was “very much a steep learning curve,” considering he had little to no experience in trade.
“The second year has been a year where I’ve been able to provide more direction in terms of the key priorities that our government should be focusing on,” said Fast.
He said one of the key outcomes this year will be the refreshing of the global commerce strategy, due this fall.
“The global commerce strategy is our government’s umbrella strategy for identifying the markets that matter around the world for Canadian exporters and investors.”
It also determines why these are considered priority markets and how to penetrate those markets.
He said key partners in Southeast Asia including Malaysia and Thailand as well as South American markets, including Brazil, are part of the strategy.
China is another major trade partner.
“Our bilateral trade flows between Canada and China have increased dramatically over the last 10 years. In fact, over the last two years alone, we’ve seen an increase in bilateral trade of $10 billion.”
He added that Canada’s exports to China are increasing by a greater percentage than China’s imports to this country.
One of the markets Fast is working on is exporting blueberries into the China, much like what was done for B.C. cherries.
In Latin America, there are four other “like-minded” countries with which Canada has key relationships, including Chile, Peru, Columbia and Mexico.
“We will also be bringing a new focus to Africa.”
According to Fast, the interest in Africa is more on the investment side, rather than trade.
“We have Canadian companies that are very much invested in different parts of the African continent. So what we’re doing is, we have a very aggressive program of negotiating bilateral investment treaties with some of our key partners in the region.”
Investment interest for Canadians is mainly in mining, oil and gas extraction, transportation, education and infrastructure development.
Fast said his government has a robust trade negotiation agenda. In the past six years, trade agreements have been reached with nine different countries and negotiations are ongoing with 50 others, including Japan and India.
“Of course, the biggest one of all right now is trying to close off our negotiations with the European Union.”
Fast said both sides are focused on getting a quality agreement, but each side has core interests that have to be defended.
While he declined to speculate on what the EU considered its core interests, Fast said Canadian priorities include ensuring that:
- The benefits of this agreement accrue to every region of the country and to every sector of the economy;
- The economy and financial system remain strong in order to drive job creation and long term prosperity for Canadians and;
- Canada’s sovereignty is fully protected.
Fast said it has also been a busy year in Ottawa, during which the government has new legislation on a variety of topics including human rights, crime and water.
“We passed a law that will prevent our fresh water from being sold abroad for commercial purposes, which has always been an issue. People have often raised … are we selling out our water? Absolutely not. Water is never on the table, we’ve made that very clear.”
That legislation doesn’t prevent bottled water from being sold, but does stop the sale of bulk water through a pipeline to the United States.
“That cannot happen in Canada.”
Last year, Fast visited close to 40 countries, some more than once, to discuss trade issues.
While he estimates he’s only in Abbotsford about five months a year in total, Fast said he and his staff still maintain a close working relationship with constituents and serving their needs.
“Also I would note that over the last seven years, Abbotsford has received a record amount of federal government investment in infrastructure.”
On a local level, Fast said he is aware of concerns by retailers surrounding cross-border shopping and the decision last year to raise the amount of goods that could be purchased across the line.
In its most recent budget, the federal government removed some of the import tariffs that impact Canadian businesses.
“I expect that review will continue.
“We want to make sure Canadian retailers are actually doing business on a level playing field.”
The past 12 months have been busy on a personal level as well as the 58-year-old Fast became a grandfather for the first time.