Ed Fast: Championing trade

Abbotsford's member of parliament reflects on his first year as Minister of International Trade for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

Abbotsford MP has spent the past year serving as the federal Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

Abbotsford MP has spent the past year serving as the federal Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

It’s been a little more than a year since a “surprised: Ed Fast learned that he had been named to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

On May 18, 2011, the Abbotsford MP was appointed to serve as Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway.

It’s been a busy year for Fast, who said he had to deal with a big learning curve while travelling to more than 30 countries.

In that year, his job description has “been expanded dramatically.”

“The prime minister asked me to take on the role of being Canada’s champion of trade, and it’s a huge responsibility. It requires me to travel much more than I even thought,” said Fast.

His international travel schedule has included China, India, Thailand, Russia, Brazil, Columbia and Mexico.

His role as Abbotsford’s MP is still a top priority for Fast, who said he only spends “somewhat less time” in his constituency.

His office still deals with local issues, including those regarding immigration, visas or pension concerns.

“One of the things I think Abbotsford residents probably should remember is that the work I do for Canada directly benefits Abbotsford. Let’s not forget that Abbotsford is a border community.”

The recent increase to how much Canadian consumers can bring back duty-free across the U.S. border received a mixed reaction. The public was mostly in favour, but business owners were not as pleased.

Fast said consumers should be happy because they now have more choice and competitive pricing to take advantage of. But he said business has not been forgotten.

A senate committee is studying the issue and Fast said the government is reviewing the import tariffs imposed on business.

“I expect that we’ll look very seriously at how we can improve the competitiveness of our own retailers. We haven’t forgotten them.”

Fast also said his work to open new markets around the world to Canadian products impacts Abbotsford.

“Right now it’s virtually impossible to get Abbotsford fresh blueberries into China.”

But after several trips to China, he said they are currently finalizing an agreement to allow B.C. cherries. He hopes to open China’s market, consisting of 1.3 billion people, to fresh Abbotsford blueberries in the next year.

Fast said his constituents, for the most part, seem content with the work he is doing, both locally and internationally.

“I think it’s fair to say that people are pleased that Abbotsford finally has a member of parliament who is in the federal cabinet. I believe I am the first person from Abbotsford to actually fill that position.”

On a personal level, Fast said the new job is a little draining, as he’s on call 24/7 and all the travel has disrupted his sleep pattern.

He’s also away from home more than ever. However, he said he still loves the job and is fortunate to have an understanding wife.

Fast’s work is ongoing, as he said there are about 50 countries with which Canada is negotiating. He said the country is now a world-wide player.

He is actively pursuing deals with the European Union, India, Japan and the Mercosur – a trading block of four countries including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

A proposed Canada European Union Trade Agreement (CETA) has been at the centre of controversy as several groups feel the deal will not be beneficial to Canadians and have been outspoken in their opposition.

Fast dismisses those claims.

“There’s always controversy because there is a very small minority of anti-trade activists.”

He said some people are ideologically and fundamentally opposed to trade, adding that protesters have opposed every free trade agreement Canada has ever signed into law.

“They are shrill and they are dusting off the same old claims they made over 20 years ago when we were first negotiating the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.”

He said back then, the same groups alleged that Canada would lose its sovereignty over fresh water, lose Canadian culture, lose millions of jobs and that the deal would hollow the economy. Fast said none of those claims came to fruition.

“Canadians can compete with the very best in the world and win.”

He called trade a key driver of economic growth for Canada and the “new stimulus” for the Canadian economy.

“We have made a very clear commitment to Canadians that we will only enter into negotiations and only sign agreements that are in Canada’s best interests.”