OTTAWA, ONTARIO – Peter Van Loan, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, iterated on Sept. 23 the Harper government’s commitment to opening new markets through an aggressive free-trade agenda. Van Loan delivered his remarks at the launch of the 2010 edition of the Economic Freedom of the World Index in Ottawa, after he tabled legislation to implement the Canada-Panama Free-Trade Agreement in the House of Commons.

The Economic Freedom of the World Index, which is issued annually by the Fraser Institute, compares economic freedoms in 141 countries. In this year’s edition of the report, which assesses data for 2008, Canada maintained its position as one of the leading nations in opening new markets for businesses and workers to compete in by promoting free trade.

“The report released [Sept. 23] confirms Canada is one of the world’s most-economically free nations,” Van Loan said. “Our government is committed to pursuing an aggressive free-trade agenda to continually expand economic freedoms here in Canada, opening new markets for Canadians and workers and promoting investment abroad. Our government’s commitment to free trade, open investment rules and lower taxes, all supported by our sound banking system and low debt and deficit, are key factors contributing to Canada’s recovery from the global recession.

“Earlier this morning, I followed through on a commitment made in the Speech from the Throne by introducing legislation to implement a free-trade agreement with Panama, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies,” he added. “Pursuing free trade with Panama is a natural next step in our growing relationship with that country, and is consistent with Canada’s priority objective of deepening its engagement in the Americas.”

Since 2006, Canada has negotiated new free-trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Jordan and Panama and with the European Free Trade Association states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

The Harper government has also launched discussions on economic partnership with two of the world’s largest economies: the European Union and India. A trade agreement with the European Union will represent the most significant Canadian trade initiative since the North American Free Trade Agreement, and is expected to deliver a $12 billion annual boost to the Canadian economy.

The fifth round of Canada-E.U. negotiations will take place next month in Ottawa, with an agreement expected before the end of 2011.