News Release

Canada needs an intergovernmental framework for international trade policy

October 24, 2018 Print

Montreal – Amid rising uncertainty over the future of global trade, a new publication by the Institute for Research on Public Policy calls for an ongoing framework agreement for cooperation in trade policy among  federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Because of the constitutional distribution of powers, Ottawa cannot enforce provisions of international trade agreements that affect provincial jurisdictions, note Jörg Broschek and Patricia Goff, both of Wilfrid Laurier University.

The authors observe that since the 1980s, this has led to greater provincial and territorial involvement in trade negotiations. However, their degree of involvement has generally depended on the will of the federal government. In Broschek and Goff’s analysis, they compare sub-federal engagement in trade in Canada to arrangements in four other federations. Unlike Switzerland and Belgium, the Canadian constitution has no provision requiring provincial and territorial involvement in negotiating or approving international trade agreements. Nor are any formalized intergovernmental institutions active in this sector, such as Germany’s Conference of Minister Presidents.

In order to avoid harmful unilateral decision-making and formalize intergovernmental processes, Broschek and Goff propose two potential reforms. First, to foster predictable cooperation in this sector, they propose the development of a permanent federal-provincial-territorial framework agreement on trade. It would clarify the roles and responsibilities of the three orders of government at all stages of the policy cycle, including the negotiation process for potential trade agreements.

The second option would be to provide the Council of the Federation with additional resources so provincial and territorial premiers are better equipped to form common positions on international trade issues

Federalism and International Trade Policy: The Canadian Provinces in Comparative Perspective by Jörg Broschek and Patricia Goff can be downloaded from the Institute’s website.


The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.

Media contact:  Shirley Cardenas   tel. 514-594-6877   scardenas@nullirpp.org

Federalism and International Trade Policy

Federalism and International Trade Policy

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Shirley Cardenas
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Tel. 514-594-6877 • scardenas@irpp.org