Canada needs to find like-minded nations on trade field

Canada is avoiding being a naive boy scout, resisting the temptation to play bully, and trying to find a way to be a canny survivor.

For Canadian farmers, exporting has suddenly become vexatious. Figuring out how to move forward without being a sucker or a fool is one of the keys to future Canadian farm success.

Here’s some of what we’re facing:

  • Chinese restrictions on Canadian canola.
  • Italian protectionism killing sales of Canadian durum.
  • India regularly, like now, jerking around the ability of its importers to bring in Canadian pulse crops.

Most disappointing is the reality, reported on the front page of this week’s paper by my colleague, Robert Arnason, that despite the Canada-European Union trade deal, there is no growth in meat exports from Canada to the EU — one of the most-lauded gains in the deal. Instead, EU meat is finding its way to Canada.

It’s a bit early to assume Canadian meat exports to the EU will not increase. It might actually just take a while and some work.

And the durum situation with Italy might mellow out as the EU slowly moves to undo some of Italy’s moves, as expected.

As well, the China crisis could dissipate after Meng Wanzhou gets punted to the United States or is allowed to return to China, and the country gets tired of paying extra for Euro-canola.

And if Indian crops are short, that country’s borders will probably open again.

But some in the industry are wondering whether Canada has been naively playing the boy scout in world trade, aggressively signing trade deals and hitching our hopes to a free-trading and fair-trading future when in fact some of the biggest markets we’re banking on will never treat us fairly.

We’re going to need proof that the Europeans, the Chinese, the Indians and other big markets are willing to play fair before we can ever count on them being reliable buyers.

Could we push back against these trade cheats? China sells more to Canada, overall, than we sell to them. Why not play their trade-blocking games back at them?

Same with the EU. We have a regulatory system too. Perhaps some technicalities could be found to foul up their exports to us.

But I doubt that would have much impact. Canada is a small market. Even if we can hurt them as much nominally as they hurt us, we’re only hurting them a little relative to the size of their larger economies, while they can hurt us a lot more in terms of relative impact. We’re never going to be a successful bully. We’d just get laughed at.

Last week, I wrote about Foreign Affairs Minister Chystia Freeland’s view that a “middle power” like Canada can’t play in the same way as the biggest powers, but that there are lots of smaller places and parts of the world that still want free trade and are still keen to ink new deals.

We have that with the TPP countries, hopefully, and there are more middle countries with which Canada can boost trade.

We can’t afford to play boy scout and get beaten up all the time.

We aren’t big enough to play bully.

But we can be quick and smart enough to scamper out of the way of the bullies and find friendlier parts of the playground in which to play.

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