His new job has Ed Fast hopping.
The Abbotsford MP took on the cabinet post Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway at a time when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has placed a higher premium on trade agreements.
In only seven months in this new role, Fast has gone from backbencher to globe-trotting cabinet minister.
He got the job in late May, replacing former International Trade minister Peter Van Loan. In June he was already on his way to South America. Last month it was Germany, France and Geneva, Switzerland for the World Trade Organization meeting. In between, Fast has been to numerous nations, including China, India, and Brazil – three of the world’s largest emerging economies.
“It’s been a very exciting and busy seven months,” said Fast.
Political pundits note the Canadian government has not been so focussed on trade since it was negotiating NAFTA 20 years ago. Fast agrees.
He explained that every nation is entitled to impose tariffs on imported goods under WTO rules, and many nations add protectionist standards to imported goods designed to keep them out. His focus has been negotiating trade deals to eliminate those trade barriers.
As a key member of the Canadian government, Fast is welcomed wherever he goes.
“Canadians are well liked around the world,” he said. “We may not have taken advantage of that as much as we might have.”
Critics say free trade agreements eliminate as many jobs as they create, but Fast said evidence shows encouraging trade creates more wealth.
It actually “grows the pie,” he said.
He uses Chile as an example of a nation that has used trade to stimulate its economy, and become one of the wealthiest nations in the Southern Hemisphere.
On the contrary, protectionist measures can hurt a nation’s economy.
“Our government believes trade is one of the key economic drivers,” he said.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada released a progress report at the end of the year highlighting the top accomplishments of the year. These included completion or significant work on trade agreements with the above mentioned nations, as well as the European Union, Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, and Panama. Canada launched exploratory talks with Mercosur, South America’s largest common market, and adopted a joint declaration on trade and investment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“With one in five Canadian jobs linked to trade, deepening Canada trading relationships in priority markets around the world is key to protecting and strengthening the financial security of hard-working Canadians,” said Fast in the press release.
Fast’s public profile has risen considerably, and he is now quoted in the Montreal Gazette, London Free Press and the Globe and Mail, in stories with headlines like “Free trade frenzy.”
There has been one casualty. His gospel vocal group Father’s Daughter, featuring Fast and his three daughters, did their final performance on New Year’s Day in Chilliwack.
“It was bittersweet. We have had a wonderful time performing together, but I am at this new season of my life.”
Fast is in Abbotsford, having returned home for the holidays, but will soon return to Ottawa. Then it’s off to Libya, followed by Chile, Peru and Australia.
“I expect the next six or seven months will be as busy as the first six or seven months were,” said Fast.
“It is an amazing job to have. I am truly honoured to do this job.”