Canadian diplomats to shift focus to trade

Critics say policy puts business ahead of national interests

The federal government has signalled that Canada’s diplomatic service will spend more of its time in the future promoting trade and less on the nuanced subtleties of diplomacy.


Trade minister Ed Fast and foreign affairs minister John Baird an-nounced the Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP) Nov. 27, the eve of a World Trade Organization meeting in Bali this week and a Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting in Singapore next week.


Canada will have ministers at both trade meetings.


“By concentrating on core objectives within our priority markets, the (GMAP) will entrench the concept of ‘economic diplomacy’ as the driving force behind the government of Canada’s trade promotion activities throughout its international diplomatic network,” said Fast. 


“This new focus represents a sea change in the way Canada’s diplomatic assets are deployed around the world (and) in doing so, we are ensuring that Canada’s long-term economic success becomes one of our priority foreign policy objectives.”


Exporters, including agricultural interests, quickly applauded the announcement.


Critics said the government was abandoning Canada’s role as a diplomatic broker dealing with geopolitical and sensitive international issues far broader than economic advancement.


In one critical report, an unnamed diplomat complained that he was no longer to be a diplomat but a trade shill for commercial interests.


Opposition MPs picked up the theme in the House of Commons Nov. 27.


New Democrat MP Paul Dewar said the advisory committee for the plan was composed exclusively of business representatives.


“Its new trade-only foreign policy puts business interests ahead of national interests,” he said. “Why are Conservatives ignoring our diplomats and letting CEOs of multinationals dictate our foreign policy?”


Baird said the New Democrat foreign affairs critic had it wrong.


“Our government stands up for Canadian values and our government stands up for Canadian interests,” he said.


Two of the business representatives on the advisory panel that helped develop the new strategy were Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, and Murad Al-Katib, president of Saskatchewan-based pulse marketer Alliance Grain Traders.


CAFTA quickly endorsed “the government’s continued commitment to expand export markets.”


The Canadian Meat Council, which represents meat packers, also ap-plauded the government.


Executive director Jim Laws said it reflects a strengthened commitment by the government to open markets for Canadian livestock and meat products. 


“Whether through the negotiation of comprehensive new trade agreements or focused technical consultations, the removal of foreign market access barriers is always a long and arduous challenge that can only be undertaken between governments.” 


The Conference Board of Canada is projecting economic growth of 2.5 percent in 2014 and 2015, based mainly on stronger trade performance. Growth this year is predicted to be 1.8 percent.


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