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Economy Canada should seize opportunity to attract foreign investment: Freeland

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to reporters during the APEC Summit in Lima, Peru on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada has a window of opportunity to attract foreign investment as a wave of protectionism ripples around the world, the country's trade minister said on Monday.

"We believe that now is a tremendous moment to go out and pitch Canada as the best place in the world for foreign investment," Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade, told members of the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

"We are the country today that is most clearly bucking the trend. … There is a window open for us and we have to push really, really, hard to get through and pull people in," she said.

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Incoming U.S. president, Donald Trump, has vowed to dismantle the North American Free-Trade Agreement and withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Canada and Pacific Rim countries.

Meanwhile, Canada has negotiated a trade pact with the European Union, though it still needs ratification by the European parliament before coming into force.

Once ratified, Ms Freeland said Canada will have trade agreements that cover 55 per cent of the world's economy. "What a great opportunity that presents to Canadian businesses to go out there and trade your hearts out. And what a magnet that makes our country for foreign investment," she said.

Ottawa is on track to create an agency aimed at boosting foreign investment in Canada. The new "investment promotion agency" is designed to make it easier for foreigners to invest in Canada and comes as the country's largest trading partner, the United States, looks ready to embrace protectionist policies.

The investment hub, which is expected to be in operation by next December, will provide "concierge service," or one-stop shopping for investors to get the information needed to invest in Canada. The automotive industry has pushed for this measure, citing Mexico's one-stop approach to foreign investment.

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"This is in line with our objective of improving the ease of doing business in Canada," said Ray Tanguay, auto-industry adviser to Ontario's economic development minister and former chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. The creation of a concierge service will reduce the layers of bureaucracy foreign companies now face when they are considering investing in Canada, he said.

The investment hub is one in a series of measures aimed at bolstering Canada's economy, which has been struggling to recover from the downturn in oil prices.

Canada's central bank recently cut its economic growth forecasts and now expects the economy to grow 1.1 per cent this year and 2 per cent next year.

The federal government's expert panel on economic growth said Canada needed to rely less on U.S. investors and more on Europe and Asia. The panel, which includes the heads of big institutional investors, wants to diversify investments outside of mining and manufacturing to other sectors, such as agriculture, technology, health and infrastructure.

The panel also recommended that the country boost immigration by 50 per cent and called for a national infrastructure bank capitalized with billions of dollars in federal funds to lure major institutional investors.

With a file from Greg Keenan

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