Addressing Foreign Affairs Issues
I was honoured to be asked by our new party leader to serve as the Deputy Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. In a rapidly changing world, there are many important issues in this area which I will be working on — issues like the rising global ambition and influence of China, escalating threats from North Korea, ongoing challenges presented by terrorist groups such as Daesh/ISIS, and the continuing threat presented by the Putin regime’s aggression.
In particular, I expect the Canada-US relationship and ongoing NAFTA renegotiations will take centre stage in coming months.
There is a general consensus in Canada that free trade access to the US is critical for our economic well–being. We should always seek new trading partners, of course, but continuing free trade between Canada and the US is a no-brainer. Canadian businesses, and the people they employ, benefit significantly from the ability to export to the US.
President Donald Trump won the US election on a promise to renegotiate NAFTA, saying the current form of the deal is bad for the US economy. His stated objective is to get a better deal for US workers and to bring manufacturing back to the US. The Trudeau government responded by immediately agreeing to the new negotiation — saying they had no problem “modernizing” NAFTA. Their renegotiation aims emphasized making the trade deal more ‘progressive’ by adding specific sections on gender equality and indigenous rights. Canadian negotiators even asked the US to roll back state-level “right to work” laws.
These particular Canadian demands are clearly going nowhere at the negotiating table. When President Trump promised voters in Ohio and Michigan to renegotiate NAFTA, he wasn’t talking about indigenous rights and gender equality. One would expect Canada’s primary focus in trade negotiations to be on protecting Canadian jobs and solidifying access to the US market for Canadian businesses. While the addition of unenforceable language on other issues might be possible, the codification and enforcement of these kinds of legal protections in the US is not going to happen without a serious national debate. Canada trying to force the US to change on these issues as part of a trade deal is clearly a dead end.
For now, the Canadian and American governments are ‘talking past’ each other — officially both discussing NAFTA, but focussing discussions on completely different things. This is risky because it increases the likelihood talks will fail.
It may be that the Trudeau government’s objectives were intended for domestic consumption and put out for political reasons. But even so, this is a dangerous strategy — it risks creating the conditions where President Trump simply decides to pull out of the deal, with devastating economic consequences for both countries.
Our Conservative opposition believes the focus of these trade negotiations should be on facilitating continued trade between the US and Canada, not pushing the US to be more like Canada. We need these trade talks to succeed. Unfortunately, I believe the government’s approach is putting that success and our economic interests at risk.
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017