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Firms know little about trade deals as Canada pushes to diversify: federal survey

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged European partners this week to finalize Canada’s trade deal with the EU, a push that came with his government facing a tough sales job at home: getting domestic firms to use it.

A recent government survey suggests the vast majority of small and medium-sized exporters, which are positioned to benefit from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, could very well be asking: CETA who?

The survey said only seven per cent of the surveyed businesses were familiar with details of the Canada-EU deal, while fewer than three quarters had even heard of it. Only nine per cent said they took advantage of CETA and 17 per cent planned to use it.

The survey, commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Department, asked questions of 507 exporting companies online in March and April, and also involved 40 “in-depth” telephone interviews. It was delivered in June and cost more than $132,000.

Researchers asked questions on about a dozen of Canada’s free-trade treaties and found CETA wasn’t the only deal in need of a promotional boost.

“Among Canadian (small-to-medium-sized enterprises), there was fairly low awareness of Canada’s free-trade agreements,” said an analysis that accompanied the results.

“Few companies use any of these free-trade agreements; the exception is (the North American Free Trade Agreement).”

The survey’s objective was to gauge how many smaller firms were aware of Canada’s newest free-trade deals, to what extent they were taking advantage of them and the obstacles keeping firms from entering these overseas markets.

For years, federal governments — led by both Liberals and Conservatives — have struggled to get more companies to pursue fresh free-trade opportunities beyond the familiarity and convenience of the United States market.

Uncertainty around the critical Canada-U.S. trading relationship has grown since the election of President Donald Trump, making diversification a more urgent matter.

In addition to CETA, respondents were asked about Canada’s deal with Pacific Rim economies. That pact is known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and includes Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Similar to the numbers for CETA, only seven per cent were aware of the CPTPP’s details and just over 70 per cent had ever heard of it. About 30 per cent of respondents said they were at least somewhat likely to start trading with CPTPP partners.

The questions also took up other free-trade agreements. The majority of companies said they had never heard of Canada’s bilateral deals with Ukraine, Israel, Chile, South Korea, Jordan, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru or Honduras.

When it came to factors keeping them from exploring faraway markets, the survey found that the high value of the Canadian dollar was seen as the top challenge, with 69 per cent of respondents describing it as at least a minor stumbling block.

The findings pointed to other problems, including uncertain regulations in other countries; lack of contacts; tariffs; a shortage of information on opportunities; linguistic and cultural obstacles; lack of financing; and Canadian export taxes and permits.

One-third of companies had no interest in other markets and, among those planning to sell abroad, the top targets were Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — all English-speaking Commonwealth countries.

Trudeau talked up the benefits of the Canada-EU deal this week in Montreal, where he met with European Council President Donald Tusk and Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU trade commissioner.

CETA is supposed to give Canadian firms preferred access to a $24-trillion market and 500 million European consumers.

Canada has ratified CETA, but so far only 13 of the EU’s 28 member countries have done the same. More than 90 per cent of the deal came into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application but all the individual ratifications are needed for its full implementation.

Trudeau said CETA has already helped lift trade between Canada and Europe. He acknowledged, however, that Canada needs to do more to make sure it’s taking full advantage.

“Perhaps, the early numbers show that Europeans have been quicker to increase their trade towards Canada than Canadian companies have been able to engage with Europe,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday.

“But we have tremendous confidence that Canadian companies will continue to benefit and increase their opportunities to grow their businesses through selling more to Europe.”

—Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press


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RCMP plane chases fleeing helicopter as part of major cross-border drug bust

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PENTICTON, B.C. — RCMP east of Vancouver were involved in a cross-border drug bust this summer that involved nearly 300 kilograms of meth, more than 100 guns and an aerial chase between a police plane and a helicopter.

Details of the bust are in paperwork filed at the Penticton Law Courts to support multiple search warrants for a property near Chilliwack, B.C., where a helicopter at the centre of the chase is alleged to have landed with an RCMP plane on its tail.

Documents filed on behalf of the RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime Section in Osoyoos say the office was alerted in early June by U.S. Homeland Security about a planned cross-border drug deal involving nearly 200 kilograms of methamphetamine.

U.S. officials staked out a landing site in Washington state about 110 kilometres south of Princeton, B.C., where they believed the drugs would be transferred to Canadian buyers. Something spooked the pilot of the helicopter, and it fled north into Canadian airspace.

Two men who tried to leave the landing site in Washington were arrested by U.S. agents who seized 188 kilograms of methamphetamine.

In Canadian skies, an RCMP plane was patrolling near Princeton hoping to intercept the unmarked, black helicopter. Mounties spotted it in a shadowy landing site on a remote mountainside in E.C. Manning Provincial Park.

The helicopter lifted off and headed west.

The chase was on.

“The helicopter took deliberate evasive action, attempting to lose surveillance,” the documents say. “The helicopter flew at very low altitudes, near the tops of trees and up narrow draws. It repeatedly changed direction, and made rapid ascents up towards the mountains.

“The helicopter varied its speed in an attempt to outrun the RCMP aircraft, and slowed down to have the RCMP aircraft overtake it.”

The dogfight continued for 45 minutes, the documents say. On two occasions, the chopper pilot tried to lure the RCMP aircraft to a lower altitude and then rapidly ascended, in a vain effort to shake the pursuers.

The helicopter eventually landed at a rural property near Chilliwack.

The court documents say searches of that property turned up 72 long guns, 35 handguns, ammunition, cellphone jammers, U.S. government helicopter decals, drones and currency from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

RCMP have not said if anyone has been charged and referred a request for comment to Homeland Security.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Tanya Roman said the investigation turned up an additional 84 kilograms of drugs, bringing the total amount of drugs seized to 272 kilograms.

“This sizable amount is indicative of the possible involvement of a large and sophisticated smuggling organization,” she said in a statement.

“Due to the ongoing investigation and law enforcement sensitivities, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.”

Authorities believe the pilot was one of two men arrested at the Chilliwack-area property.

The Canadian Civil Aircraft Registry shows the helicopter’s registration was cancelled last May. (Penticton Herald)

Joe Fries, Penticton Herald, The Canadian Press

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Third-party buys billboard to promote Bernier’s anti-mass immigration stance

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maxine bernier billboard

OTTAWA — Billboards with Maxime Bernier’s face and a slogan advocating against mass immigration cropped up Friday in several major Canadian cities.

The ads, which were seen in Halifax, Regina and Vancouver, prompt people to vote for the People’s Party of Canada and read “Say NO to Mass Immigration.”

A third-party advertising group, True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp., paid for the billboards.

According to a filing with Elections Canada, the third-party group is run by Frank Smeenk, the chief executive of a Toronto-based mining exploration company.

The group filed interim financial returns with Elections Canada that show it spent $59,890 on billboards in “select cities in Canada” and received $60,000 from Bassett & Walker International Inc., a company that specializes in the international trade of protein products.

Earlier this week, Smeenk declined to comment on the billboard beyond what appeared in the Elections Canada filing. The Canadian Press attempted to reach Smeenk again on Friday, but he did not respond.

Similarly, messages left at Bassett & Walker were not returned.

The People’s Party of Canada also did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but it said in a statement to other media it is not associated with the group that has put up the billboards and that they had not been in contact with the third party.

Bernier has advocated lower immigration to somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 people per year, much lower than the current target of 330,800 for 2019 set by the federal government. He’s also said he would impose a values test on people trying to immigrate to Canada.

Local politicians in Halifax weighed in as images of the billboards spread Friday.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said on Twitter, “I welcome everyone to Nova Scotia — but I don’t welcome this negative, divisive tone.”

Local Liberal MP Andy Fillmore was more direct: “How about no to Maxime Bernier, instead,” he wrote. “There’s no place in Nova scotia for the PPC’s politics of fear (and) division.”

The purchase by the True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. is the latest is a series of ad buys from third-party groups.

Before the start of the pre-election period June 30, several groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV advertising, notably during the NBA Finals.

Earlier in the summer, other billboards targeting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale popped up in his Regina riding, also the product of a third-party group, the Canada Growth Council.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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