Is Trudeau’s progressive agenda hurting free trade talks?

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In the first half of 2017, I repeatedly supported the Trudeau government on their trade strategy. They seemed to be focused on diversifying Canadian trade away from the U.S., altering the negotiation strategy based on the opponent, and establishing strong starts in Asia where the future global GDP growth will transpire.

I have changed my opinion. They have lost their way. The Canadian trade strategy is off track, especially in Asia.

Do not get me wrong, I believe that the Freeland/Trudeau strategy with the U.S. is still correct. I disagree that they have played their progressive cards incorrectly in Washington. The concept of a non-partisan attack at the state level, Congress and White House is the best we can do, no matter what Stephen Harper or Robert Lighthizer believe.

Asia is where we have a big problem.

Has the CETA hurt their ability to close other deals?

The Canada-Europe agreement has been described by the government as the most progressive trade deal in history.  It includes strong chapters on the environment, labour, gender and human rights.

Europe is very like-minded to the Canadian government on all of these issues. When you are dealing with a like-minded set of countries, all of the social issue texts are easy to agree on.

Since CETA was the first deal closed by this government, it has altered our reality of what is important in all of our trade deals. The progressive components of CETA have clouded our judgement on what’s possible and what should be in NAFTA, TPP11 and now, a potential trade framework with China.


Is the rest of the world ready for this progressive thinking?

There are many ways to negotiate a deal. You can slow play, or play hardball, but getting a deal is the ultimate goal. The Donald Trump way is to use double hyperbole to get what you want. Canada is being just as aggressive as Trump, but on issues such as labour, gender and the environment. These social issues are commonly called the “progressive” chapters or text.

We have tried taking our progressiveness global and it is hurting us.

The Canadian government has engulfed itself in the word “progressive” (even changed the name of TPP11 to include the word), but it’s not gaining us traction — not with our friends(?) in the TPP11, and not with China.

These progressive demands were showcased at the APEC meeting in Vietnam, where Trudeau was a no-show with other TPP leaders. According to Canada West Foundation’s Carlo Dade, Canada’s progressive act is wearing thin in Asia.

Trying to push for more progressive elements in the current agreement is probably a nonstarter, given that countries are already annoyed that Canada, along with Mexico, gets the lion’s share of benefits under TPP11. To add further demands would be the definition of “pushing one’s luck” and would not be a good idea. This is especially true when the asks seem to be designed purely for domestic optics rather than for substance.

Before you say that Dade’s organization is just a pro western conservative voice, let’s hear from someone from Quebec. In a November CBC story on Canada’s progressive TPP11 agenda, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who is on the board of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was quoted saying the following:

“They’re addressing the angst of Canadians that’s shared elsewhere in the world about trade agreements having to be more than just about lining up numbers on a sheet of paper,”

“When we bring those issues — environment, workers’ rights — I think we’re in a broader trend. How far we want to push it when we’re dealing with developing countries that are going to follow their own path of development is another issue.”

These trade deals have become less about growing the economy and more about spreading the good word on gender, the environment and labour rights. But it’s potentially putting other priorities at risk.

As John Ivison says in his Dec 4, National Post column on the uncomfortable Canada-China press conference, “Trudeau emerged to give his final statement looking like the boy who expected a bike for Christmas and instead got a pair of plain socks.”

Canada needs to adjust its strategy and keep its eye on the ball of what a trade deal should be about. It’s about growing the economy, not lecturing other countries.

We should be bringing up these issues in discussions, but not making or breaking economic progress on whether China or other Asian countries believe in our version of progressiveness.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. He creates content regularly and hosts RealAg Radio on Rural Radio 147 every weekday at 4PM est.

@shaunhaney

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