BRUSSELS – The United States, European countries and Canada should avoid protectionist policies that could scuttle efforts to negotiate new transatlantic free trade pacts, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Wednesday.
It is now “more urgent” for the 27-member EU bloc, and the North American countries to forge closer economic ties in wake of the global economic slowdown, Charest said.
The Quebec leader told the Associated Press in an interview that both the EU and Canada should push the Obama administration and Congress harder not to go ahead with plans to introduce buy American policies as part of a massive U.S. economic stimulus bill.
“We have to be active in the United States; we have to make sure that our voices are heard,” Charest said in an interview.
“There is reason to be worried,” he added.
The U.S. Congress is still reviewing the bill.
Charest said protectionism was “the wrong answer” and instead the focus should be on forging ahead with freer trade between the EU and North America.
Charest said he was hopeful the EU and Canada could conclude an accord in two years time.
Those negotiations are expected to be launched in May.
Such an accord could include the free movement of skilled workers between Europe and Canada.
Charest was in Brussels for talks with EU officials, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, to drum up support for speedy negotiations on an EU-Canada accord.
The premier said the conclusion of a wide-ranging free trade pact between the EU and Canada could serve as a model for an EU-U.S. pact as well.
“For Europe there is more to this than a negotiation with Canada, this is also an investment in a broader transatlantic relationship that needs to be enforced,” Charest said.
EU countries still have to approve a negotiating mandate to start those talks, and some, like Denmark, are keen to push Canada into signing up to binding emissions cuts to fight climate change as part of such a trade pact.
Denmark is hosting climate change negotiations at the end of the year in Copenhagen.
The EU has called on Canada to reduce CO2 emissions by 30 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.
Charest said Prime Minister Stephen Harper “should signal as rapidly as possible” Canada’s intention to introduce an emissions trading plan similar to one in the EU as part of signing a new international climate treaty.
Charest added that a new free trade pact could replicate European moves to a “low-carbon” economy, investing heavily in renewable energy projects like wind, hydro and solar power.
Harper has been criticized at home for doing little to address climate change.
He has however, called on President Barack Obama to agree to a new North American climate change pact.
Charest has spent the last several days in Europe attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and attempting to secure a manpower mobility agreement between France and Quebec.