TORONTO - Canada's industry minister says the provinces and territories are more keen than they've ever been to ensure Canada is as open for business interprovincially as it is to the United States and Europe.
"To have less economic freedom within Canada than we consent to and have agreed to with the rest of the world is completely backwards," James Moore said following a meeting with provincial and territorial trade ministers.
The current provincial consensus on eliminating domestic trade barriers is a "very good moment" that follows years of sovereigntist governments in Quebec, overlapping provincial and federal elections and an array of disputes among the provinces and territories, he said.
"This is really historic."
The trade ministers, meeting for the first time in four years to talk about renewing the 20-year-old Agreement on Internal Trade, said discussions to create a new deal are about halfway finished and there is a substantial amount of agreement between them.
Brad Duguid, Ontario's economic development minister, said he and his counterparts are well on their way to reaching an agreement by March, and they'll meet at least once more before that.
The ministers also heard from members of the business community on Tuesday, who told them there are myriad regulations across the provinces that get in the way of commerce, Duguid said.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses wants a comprehensive, national trade agreement to eliminate what it calls "artificial barriers" that prevent the movement of goods, services and labour within Canada.
It wants changes so that when a product or service complies with rules in one province, it will be acceptable to all provinces, and that cross-border trade between provinces is permitted unless stated otherwise.
The CFIB also wants to see a faster and more direct approach to solving disputes about interprovincial trade.