Who has the fortitude to move Canada's trade vision forward?


It’s fundamentally understood by most countries around the world that competition is a good thing. It forces countries to be innovative and focused on the competitive factors within its control to be the best they can be as a nation — things like infrastructure, tax and trade policy, and natural resources.

Canada has its strengths and weaknesses, of course, and has recently set some high goals of economic growth through trade. Canada’s plan requires tackling some pretty major challenges, and will need strong leadership to move it forward. The goals are laid out, but where is the plan?

Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the MacDonald Laurier Institute, considers the lofty goals  attainable, but has yet to see any discussion of a plan that will get us there.

Canada is in danger of becoming the “land of happy talk,” he says, with plenty of grand ideas, but no one doing the hard thinking and the hard work to get these things actually done.

There are issues and challenges outside of Canada’s control — trade wars, for example — but pipelines, development of natural resources, agriculture with export in mind: all these are things Canada can move on, but many of these areas are fraught with being “unpopular” on the political spectrum.

Canada is just going to have to get over that in order to actually achieve what it sets out to do, Crowley says. What’s more, like it or not, Canada needs to back the U.S. when it comes to China, and maintain its commitment to multi-lateral trade deals and the international system. China prefers bilateral trade deals — because it’s always the largest, most powerful when put head to head with any other economy, Crowley says.  (Story continues below interview)

“The U.S. is going to be taking on (China) and say, ‘we expect our allies to be with us’,” Crowley says.  Canada will have to answer when the U.S. is asked what side we stand on (perhaps as evidenced by last week’s arrest in Canada of Huawei’s CFO).

Our own infrastructure — be it pipelines or railways — needs to be equipped not just to meet the current demand but to serve the future needs of all exporters, Crowley says. Canada loses out when oil ends up being sold cheaper because of an inability to get it to port. And grain losses out, in the long term, because it will be pushed off to make room for more valuable oil.

What’s the solution? There isn’t an easy one, but Crowley says he’s yet to see a real, thought out plan, even as the calendar flips to 2019 and a federal election.

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