Road map for Canada: A foreign policy for the future

An excerpt from Roland Paris' open letter to Canada's next Prime Minister.
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March 6, 2015

In the March issue of the Literary Review of Canada, I write about the future of Canada’s foreign policy in an open letter to the party leader who wins the 2015 federal election.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rather than maintaining the virtuous circle of effective bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, Canada has been marginalizing itself. It is one thing to excoriate our adversaries, as we have recently taken to doing, but carelessly alienating our friends and disconnecting ourselves from international discussions is simply self-defeating. Canada is not powerful enough to dictate to others, even if we wished to do so. We have succeeded in international affairs by building bridges, not burning them.

This point seems to be lost on some foreign policy commentators, including Derek Burney and Fen Hampson, who disparage this approach as “Canada’s Boy Scout vocation,” or a kind of woolly-minded idealism. Their scorn is misplaced. Building international partnerships, including through energetic and constructive multilateral diplomacy, is a necessary condition for advancing Canada’s interests. Nothing could be more hard‑headed.

Your challenge, Prime Minister, is to devise a foreign policy that reaffirms this approach while responding to the sweeping changes taking place in the world: a foreign policy for the future. Allow me to offer the following suggestions—on our relations with Asia and the United States, our policy on energy and the environment, and our approach to fragile states.

A forward-looking policy would, first, recognize that the centre of economic power in the world is shifting with unprecedented speed away from the advanced industrialized countries and towards emerging markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1980, for example, Chinese economic output was just a tenth of the U.S. figure, but by 2020 it is expected to be 20 percent larger than that of the United States. Despite a recent slowdown, growth rates in emerging economies are expected to continue outperforming those of advanced economies by a wide margin.

Deepening Canada’s economic links with these emerging powerhouses would allow us to benefit more from their elevated rates of economic growth, but we have been very slow to do so. Fully 85 percent of our exports still go to slow-growth advanced countries, according to figures cited by the Bank of Canada. The recently finalized trade deal with Korea was a step in the right direction, but we still lag far behind our competitors (see figure). Canada’s market share of China’s imports, for instance, did not increase between 2004 and 2013, and our share of India’s imports actually fell during this period.

ParisFig1

This is not only bad for Canada’s long-term growth prospects; it also imposes costs today. A small but telling example: Australia’s recently concluded free trade agreement with China eliminated tariffs on Australian barley imports into China, among other things. Selling food to the Middle Kingdom is big business—and an enormous opportunity for Canadian exporters. Now, however, Australian barley exports to China will enjoy a $10 per tonne advantage over Canadian barley. We lose.

The good news is that Canada is participating in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an economic cooperation zone that will, if completed, encompass twelve countries including Canada. In addition to pressing for a successful conclusion of these negotiations, you should initiate free trade negotiations with China, which is not part of the TPP, and with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while expeditiously concluding Canada’s ongoing bilateral negotiations with India and Japan.

Even these steps are only a beginning…

Read the full text for free on the LRC website.