John Heim would like beer lovers across Western Canada to be able to enjoy a frosty-cold What the Helles Lager or a Diesel Fitter Stout whenever their taste buds desire. The Winnipeg-based president of Torque Brewing recently started exporting variety packs of his microbrewery’s beers to Saskatchewan and he’s thankful for the New West Partnership, a trade agreement between British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, for making such an endeavour much easier than it used to be in the past. “We didn’t run into any red tape when we went into Saskatchewan,” he says. “We drove out, they liked our product and said they wanted more variety on their shelves. the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority orders through us and the transportation is built into the price.”
The New West Partnership was first implemented in 2010 by Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. with Manitoba joining last year. Combined, they have a market of more than 11 million people and a GDP of more than $750 billion. The agreement contains many similar elements to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, which covers good and services, investment and labour mobility among the 10 provinces, three territories and the federal government. Labour mobility enables certified workers to practice their occupation in any of the four provinces without having to take additional exams or training. Other benefits include streamlined regulations, enhanced competitiveness, more opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to bid on public contracts (whether that’s for goods and services or something related to infrastructure, such as a bridge) and a bid protest mechanism whereby companies can launch a challenge if they believe the process wasn’t conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner.
“(The agreement) establishes the obligations of governments to ensure fair, open and non-discriminatory treatment (for all companies). There is a real advantage for businesses as it reduces the regulatory burden on them,” says Tami Reynolds, Internal Trade Representative for Manitoba. “When you allow good and services, capital and workers to flow freely between B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it makes it easier for businesses to expand while lowering their expenses.”
Bob Donald, Executive Director of Trade Policy with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Trade and Export Development, agrees and said the partnership levels the playing field for businesses of all kinds. “If you have access to one jurisdiction, you have access to all four. The rules of the game for trade in the West are harmonized or reconciled so there are no significant barriers for the four jurisdictions,” he says.
Like other trade agreements, the New West Partnership isn’t without its flaws. (Although unlike the North American Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA), they aren’t being trumpeted on social media by political leaders.) Heim says the messaging isn’t consistent in all of the literature and on websites that he has seen. “In some cases, it’s the other three provinces only (excluding Manitoba),” he adds. And doing business across provincial borders isn’t always seamless—at least not yet. Alberta implemented a small brewers development program in 2016, which resulted in out-of-province brewers being hit with a per-litre surcharge. It was subsequently changed to a flat fee, which Alberta brewers got back in the form of a rebate.
“Depending on how the Alberta government drags its heels, we may look at expanding there. The challenge is the further west you go, the competition gets more heated. There are more than 200 microbreweries in B.C. alone,” Heim says.