Massive fail: time for a course correction

The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and TradeAgreement (CETA) was negotiated, initially, by the Paul Martin government, starting in 2004, with the framework for a new Canada-EU Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement (TIEA). The Stephen Harper government did not miss a step when the government changed and officials announced the launch of negotiations in May 2009 at the Canada-EU Summit in Prague. The CETA, proper, was agreed in August 2014. It is the biggest free trade deal since NAFTA … it is mightily important to Canada’s economic future, especially given that the Trudeau regime is throwing money around like a drunken sailor.

But, now it is in trouble, in part, at least, because Canada has had the wrong diplomatic focus.

But there were always some difficulties, especially in France and Germany, not really on the merits of the agreement but, rather, over political concerns about globalization and all that.  It appears, according to a BNN report,  that the “European Commission bowed to pressure to give Europe’s parliaments the right to ratify the landmark agreement …[and] … In the face of popular suspicion about secretive trade deals benefiting big companies, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker retreated from his position that the multi-billion-euro pact would only need support from European Union governments and the European Parliament to go ahead.” The Globe and Mail reports that “International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t mention the switch from fast-tracking in a statement, but did laud the benefits of the trade deal, adding she was in touch with the EU Trade Commissioner and several of her European peers.

This deal looks like a real “win-win” for both Canada and Europe …

… but Canada,specifically Ms Freeland, has failed to reassure European governments … it is a diplomatic failure of the first order and both ministers Dion and Freeland should resign.

Now,some will argue that this was an EU decisions, made in Berlin, Paris and Prague and other capitals and that there was little that Canadian ministers could have done … nonsense. Ministers Dion and Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau, himself, should have been in Berlin and Paris and so on, selling the political merits f this deal to nervous governments. Minister Freeland was in Brussels and Paris in early June but that was a too short trip to too few capitals … she’s a bit of a celebrity, she should have been in a dozen capitals, knocking on doors and “selling” the CETA. Instead, after one “round table” in Brussels she headed off to Mexico … with which our two-way merchandise trade reached over $35 billion in 2015; our trade with Britain, alone, is about $30 Billion, add $15 Billion with Germany and nearly $10 Billion with the Netherlands and it becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly, that our focus should have been on keeping the CETA on the “fast track” for approval.

Both Minister Freeland and Marie-Anne Coninsx, the European Union’s ambassador to Canada, insist that the agreement is still on track, but it took years for the European parliaments to agree a less contentious deal with South Korea. It may be possible to have a partial, provisional agreement in place in 2016, but only time will tell, and Canada should have had this deal sewn up by now. It wasn’t as if the European political concerns were either a secret or a surprise.

1297468079999_ORIGINALThis government has been focused on climate change, which is very politically popular but inconsequential ~ especially given what little Canada might do to contribute to e.g. greenhouse gas reductions.Trade is what matters and Justin Trudeau appointed a political neophyte to a key portfolio and she has failed. We need a real, seasoned minister (and there are some good candidates in Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet) in the trade portfolio who will rescue the CETA, push the TPP through and, as matters of urgency, start free trade negotiations with Britain and China. Trade minister is not an entry level job and Chrystia Freeland is not up to it.

image-20160321-30917-191lx5oNow I know that free trade is unpopular with many, many people, including many Conservatives. At the risk of being rude: they are all wrong!  History is crystal clear: over time, over the mid to long term, free trade always benefits most people. Yes, in the immediate to short term, there is often some pain as market sectors adapt to the sudden loss of protection, but protectionism, no matter whose policy it is, is always wrong and always costs the “little guy,” the “working man,” “ordinary Jane or Joe” because (s)he has to stretch every dollar father and farther to pay high (protected) wages and high (protected) profits.

As he prepares for the next session of parliament, Prime Minister Trudeau needs o rethink his priorities and the shape of his cabinet … he’s got some bench strength …

… even if he has to reach into the Senate for some of it, and he needs to deploy it to deal with the big, tough, important issues and none is bigger, tougher or more important than free trade.


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