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A Closer Look At The Canadian Government’s Free Trade Agreement Process

As a continuation of our 3-part blog series about the free trade negotiation process, CABC Advocacy Chair Geoff Donald offers his insights about other free trade agreements that Canada has negotiated. This provides readers with a better understanding of the timeline of the trade negotiation process.

Canada has signed four other multilateral free trade agreements that can be comparable to a Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. The four agreements are Canada–European Free Trade Association Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

Of the four, CUSMA was negotiated the fastest in just three years. However, it was more of an update to the previous North American Free Trade Agreement than a new trade agreement, so it may not be as easily comparable.

For the remaining three trade agreements, it took Canada and its negotiating partners an average of thirteen rounds of negotiations to arrive at an agreed-upon text, and 9.6 years from the start of negotiations to the agreement entering into force.

When examining ASEAN trade negotiation history, there are six FTAs that are similar in nature to the proposed Canada-ASEAN FTA. The average negotiating time for these agreements is a little over 4 years.

While there is little information available on the number of rounds of negotiations required for each agreement, ASEAN adheres to the principle of consensus and has a history of requiring numerous meetings to make decisions. For example, the recently concluded RCEP agreement required thirty-one rounds and 11 Ministerial-level meetings over 10 years.

Also, the differences in negotiating timelines between ASEAN and Canada may be due to the fact that Canada FTAs tend to be broader in scope while ASEAN FTAs are more focused on pure trade-related issues.

A part of the negotiating process for the Canadian government is engaging with a wide range of stakeholders who want to ensure that their views are heard, and concerns are being acted upon. This engagement takes place not only at the start of the free trade agreement process when the priorities and objectives are being set but on an ongoing basis as the negotiations unfold.

The list of potential stakeholders for a free trade agreement can include:

  • The Canadian Public,

  • Provincial, Territorial, Municipal governments, and other levels of government,

  • Industry and Unions,

  • Universities, Colleges, and Think Tanks,

  • Non-governmental organizations and

  • Public interest groups

Another important group of stakeholders that the Government will consult is parliamentarians who will raise their constituents’ issues, conduct public consultations, and make sure that the agreement reflects all Canadian’s interests. Parliamentarians also will review and approve any free trade agreement at parliamentary committees during the legislative process.

Interested stakeholders need to understand the negotiating process so that they know when and how to make their views known.

This suggests that we are looking at a range of between 4 to 9 years from the start of the negotiations to an agreement coming into force. However, with strong political will and private sector support from both sides, it is possible to expedite the process.


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