Looking back only three years, who would have predicted times would change so drastically for Canada’s international trade, especially in agriculture?
While there were some not-so-fair trade winds blowing then, largely in countries that were choosing more right-of-centre politicians, in most ways the xenophobes seemed far away.
Prior to China’s rejection of Canadian canola, the recent big-trade stories for the nation were the new-style American approach to renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the new-style Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the odd-school Italian country of origin labelling on durum and lentils, and the old-school Indian gamesmanship around adequate domestic supplies of pulses.
TPP worked out well, putting Canada on an improved footing in southeastern Asia. India would be back for peas and lentils when they needed them. The European Union masters of Italy would sort that problem eventually. The Americans were milking a few, last-minute domestic steel jobs out the new NAFTA deal while Canada selectively punished them for Section 232 tariffs, but we knew it would end sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, China was stepping up as a bigger importer. What was there really to concern a newly minted Minister of Foreign Affairs with when it came to agriculture anyway?
Canada appeared ready to reap rewards from being a fair trader and prolific exporter, once some nagging issues resolved themselves.
The effect of China slapping Canada down for grabbing Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, catching Canada between an America-first-minded U.S. government and China’s vengeful retaliation was completely unexpected.
Chrystia Freeland had stuck to her guns and an American deal on a new version of NAFTA appeared behind us, except for nagging metal tariffs.
“The American’s lifted the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum and we lifted ours,” said the Peace River, Alta., born former journalist about last week’s deal to move the North American trade deal forward.
“I think this proves that (in trade) if the facts are on your side and you are united and persistent you can succeed,” she said in an interview last week.
Freeland said she, and her trade and agriculture colleagues Jim Carr and Marie Claude Bibeau, are using much of the strategy that brought recent success with the Americans in China.
“We are sticking to a fact-based approach. With steel and aluminum we knew the facts were on our side. With canola, we know the facts are on our side,” said the minister.
“It is the Canadian way to be firm and polite, but resolute.”
China has a team of diplomats in Canada and currently Canada has a parliamentary committee there and has been leveraging its message internationally about its pair of its arbitrarily detained citizens, along with trade messages.
Freeland is also leveraging other countries’ experiences with China under similar situations.
Norway, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia. There does seem to be a pattern how China conducts itself in these situations.
“It can be hard to wait these things out, but in this case, learning from others’ experiences and our own, we believe this is the path to success,” she said.
“I am extremely sympathetic in the canola situation. There is one Canadian farmer that I’m hearing from on a regular basis about this situation. And my Dad’s neighbours have deputized him to make sure I remain focused on it,” said Freeland.
Michael Raine is managing editor and Production editor at the Western Producer. Contact him at 306-665-3592 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.