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Truckers Give Cautious Thumbs Up to New Canadian Free Trade Agreement

The spokesgroup for the industry that is often characterized as the posterboy for the lack of regulatory harmonization in Canada, says it welcomes the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) announced today in Toronto by the provincial and federal governments. It will come into force on July 1, 2017.

But the CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, David Bradley, says “while we are encouraged, time will tell whether the new processes established to identify, prioritize and negotiate standardized rules will be more effective than previous attempts to increase the level of harmonization of trucking regulations.”

Indeed, in announcing the CFTA today, Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of economic development and growth, who chaired the multi-government internal trade committee, made specific reference to the lack of harmonization that exists regarding truck driver hours of service rules across the country.

A centerpiece of the agreement, which replaces the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade, is a new regulatory reconciliation process. The CFTA establishes a Regulatory Reconciliation and Cooperation Table – a federal-provincial-territorial body which will oversee the new process.

“We have maintained for many years that the processes and institutions Canada has been relying on to address provincial trade impediments and regulatory differences are in need of re-energization, modernization or replacement,” says Bradley.

“The new table might provide that focus,” he added, but noted the table’s decisions will not be binding on provinces. Governments may opt out of reconciliation negotiations if they do not have an existing measure to reconcile or determine that reconciliation is not a desirable option for their jurisdiction. Even the ministers who spoke at today’s press conference acknowledged there is still a lot of work to do and that in many respects the agreement is a first step.

“Nevertheless, I would prefer to remain encouraged at this point,” said Bradley. “We look at this as a new opportunity for a fresh look at some of our long-standing concerns or at least a better way forward.”

Bradley says it is imperative that Canada address the inefficiencies and complexities caused by the various provincial regulatory differences governing everything from truck weights and dimensions, to truck safety rules, to environmental standards. He also says trucking is unique in the sense that the industry is subject to both federal and provincial regulation.

“We need more harmonization not only between the provinces but between the provinces and the federal government as well.”

Bradley also says reducing internal trade barriers and reconciling internal regulatory differences is essential in the context of the country’s trade relationship with the United States and the upcoming NAFTA negotiations.

“Given the current lack of domestic regulatory harmonization and cohesiveness, Canada – at least when it comes to trucking issues – often does not speak with one voice, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve true North American or bilateral standards,” he said. “The Americans don’t want to deal with 10 provinces, three territories and the federal government. They would like us to discuss these issues with a single voice.”

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