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Time for Canada to step up trade

By: John Kennair

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 03, 2014 06:00 am

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Canadian foreign policy has suffered from its ad hoc nature, being reactionary rather than forward looking. This is because, for the most part, it has been designed to appease domestic pressures as they arise. If there were any consistency to it, it would be the portrayal of Canada as a world leader. This is a communications ruse at best, and we, as loyal Canadians, are more than willing to accept this propaganda.

Though Canadian foreign policy has primarily been ad hoc, it has, in the past, exuded leadership qualities, reflecting Canadian interests. In the Commonwealth, for an example, Canada helped to shape the direction of this historic association when Pierre Trudeau pledged to help in its development programs, a part of Canada’s future strategies. Brian Mulroney helped to bring the Commonwealth together in a stand against apartheid, when both the U.S. and Britain were reluctant to do so, as part of our ideals on human rights. Both of these policies were started unilaterally, because they were right for Canadians, and then other states followed.

When it comes to trade, an important element of Canada’s economic well-being, Canada shows little leadership. Ironically, since the 1980s, foreign affairs and international trade have been conjoined. This is simply because, for the most part, they are nearly the same thing: yet rights and development issues are secondary to our economic interests as a state. But is it possible to find some communion between these ideals?

Pierre Trudeau acknowledged in 1975 that trade was more important than aid for building international stability, but Canada never followed through on this. But more recently under the Harper government, we started to see an intrinsic link between these issues, primarily in the mining sector. Paradoxically however, this same government has drifted away from the Commonwealth itself, which seems counter-intuitive given that many of our mining companies have opportunities in Commonwealth countries.

Further to this, since the failure of the Doha talks in 2005, the Commonwealth has revisited the idea of a Commonwealth free-trade agreement. Britain is the state leading the talks on this, as it tries to offset its relations with the European Union and secure resources for itself and Canada is nowhere to be present on these talks. But can this return to our longest serving international association have any advantages for Canada?

Seventy-five percent of Canada’s trade is with countries with which it has free trade agreements, but none of these are with a Commonwealth country. So why do we not look to these countries for trade, countries with whom we share history? Can we not take our strengths and experience as a trading nation to help in bringing prosperity to these Commonwealth states? And maybe such endeavours will give us the influence we have always talked about as a country. Maybe it is time for us to walk the walk instead of just being a country based on rhetoric.

John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.


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