B.C.'s Asia trade will benefit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the world's largest free trade agreement, reached Monday after all-night discussions with 11 Pacific Rim countries, according to business and provincial government officials.
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond cautioned that legal work and ratification by the 12 countries involved still remains to be done, but the TPP removes barriers for B.C. producers of seafood, minerals, forest and farm products in countries such as Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.
"Generally speaking, any time British Columbia can compete on a fair and level playing field, we're going to do well," said Bond, citing trade growth in cherries, blueberries and wood products.
Much of B.C.'s progress in lumber exports has been in China, which is not part of the TPP talks. B.C. averages $4.8 billion annually in forest products to TPP countries and 1.5 billion worth of pulp and paper, despite duties up to five per cent in Australia and New Zealand, up to 10 per cent in Japan and up to 40 per cent in Malaysia.
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce says fish and seafood are currently subject to 15 per cent duty in Japan and Malaysia, up to 34 per cent in Vietnam and up to five per cent in New Zealand. Beef, fresh and frozen vegetables, fresh cherries and fresh and frozen blueberries also face tariffs in Asian countries.
The tentative deal has emerged as a major issue in the federal election campaign. Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined a $4 billion "income guarantee program" for Canada's protected dairy and egg producers, to compensate farmers for lost income due to new foreign imports for 10 years after the TPP takes effect.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair blasted the agreement as a "sellout" of Canadian auto workers and farmers that will also see drug prices rise in Canada. Mulcair said his party would not be bound by the agreement if it forms the new government on Oct. 19.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said his party is pro-free trade, but will study the agreement and "take the responsible time to do what's right for Canada."