Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in B.C. today, where he touted the benefits of the Canada-Korea free trade deal not only for the provinces, but particularly for B.C.
The free trade agreement is expected to eliminate nearly all tariffs between the two countries, giving Canadian businesses increased access to South Korea and a window into other Asia-Pacific markets.
"There is no province that is going to benefit from this deal with Korea more than British Columbia," Harper told a B.C. Chamber of Commerce gathering in Vancouver, where he stopped on his way back from South Korea.
"B.C. business has tremendous gains and obviously B.C. business is more aware of the export opportunities that exist in Korea and through Korea to other Asian markets," Harper said.
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Harper was in B.C. taking part in a moderated question and answer session with John Winter, the president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
The free trade agreement would also see South Korea drop its three per cent tariffs on liquefied natural gas, giving Canadian exporters duty free access for their products.
While Canada does not currently export LNG to South Korea, the agreement would help Premier Christy Clark's push to broaden those markets into the wider Asia-Pacific region.
Winter called the elimination of those tariffs "a good step going forward."
'Very big potential wins'
The trade deal has been well received by most sectors of the Canadian economy with the exception of those in the automotive industry, who worry the deal will cost Ontario tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Harper defended the free trade agreement against those claims saying, "We know there is some division of opinion in the auto sector, but there are parts of the auto sector that are very supportive," the prime minister said pointing to Honda and Toyota.
The Japanese firms, both of which manufacture cars in Canada, have come to welcome the deal in the hope that Canada will eventually sign a similar one with their home country.
While Ford has not been supportive of the agreement, Harper said South Korean cars are already being imported duty-free through the U.S. and its free trade deal with South Korea.
"We're in an era where we are not going to win by trying to protect sectors. We have got to get out there, we've got to compete with the best and we've got to win," Harper said.
On the whole, Harper said that having South Korea drop tariffs, which run up to three times higher than Canada's, represents "some very, very big potential wins in terms of making Canadian goods much more competitive."
The federal government insists the concerns expressed by Ontario's auto sector are overblown, saying the effects of removing Canadian tariffs on South Korean cars would be "negligible," citing a 2012 study conducted for the Department of Foreign Affairs that shows the potential for job losses in the hundreds — not tens of thousands.
Harper used the public event to join other G7 leaders in calling on Russia to back away from a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region.
"All of the G7 countries remain collectively strongly committed to the view that we will not accept Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea," Harper said.
When Harper was in Vancouver for a similar event in January, two climate change activists managed to sneak up behind him and onto the stage where he was sitting.
"I'm glad we got through this alone on the stage," Winter said, drawing laughs and applause from the business audience.
"I think B.C.'s reputation has been tattered," the moderator joked as he wrapped up the question-and-answer session.
"I was going to say, it doesn't really feel like B.C.," Harper said laughing along.