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Ontario reluctant to remove some barriers to interprovincial trade; open to talks

TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals say they want to remove barriers to interprovincial trade, but suggest they're reluctant to lift some restrictions that give Ontario companies an advantage.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa says there are a number of sectors within Ontario's economy that are strong because they're protected.

Sousa says he's open to talks on how to grow the economy, but he doesn't want to jeopardize the livelihood of Ontario companies.

There are restrictions in Ontario that make it more difficult for companies outside the province to bid on infrastructure projects, which are getting a big funding boost from the Liberals over the next few years.

Ontario consumers of wine and spirits must also buy their booze through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, instead of having it shipped directly from a producer outside the province.

Sousa's comments come after the leaders of three western provinces called for the removal of trade barriers to reduce the cost of doing business and help provincial economies grow.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and B.C. Premier Christy Clark sent a letter to other premiers on Wednesday saying it's time for a more modern approach.

Wall says it's arguably easier for a company in the United States to bid on government procurement in Canada than it is for some Canadian companies to bid in their own country.

The premiers say in the letter that the current Agreement on Internal Trade, which came into effect in 1995, allows "anti-free trade behaviour which puts us on a slippery slope to protectionism."

Wall said the old agreement takes the approach that every sector of the economy is protected unless an exception is added in.

He said a new Canada free trade zone would flip that around to say that everything is subject to free trade between the provinces unless exceptions are negotiated.

The three premiers say in the letter that they want to see a commitment for change when all the premiers meet in Charlottetown in August.

The Canadian Press

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