International trade must become part of our culture

Do you remember when Canada was finally going to be the international trade winner? If your short-term memory isn’t too bad, you should.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership listed Canada as its biggest beneficiary — big country, small population, lots of exports.

In case we need a little more information, the TPP was an agreement that was set to be ratified about the time the last American election took place. The expected new Democrat party president, Hillary Clinton, was going to put her official seal on the deal and Canadians, especially farmers and food industry folks, were going to cast our eyes and nets into the western horizon.

Boats filled with our sustainable futures would churn their props and deliver on the dreams held by generations — fair trade for Canadian products.

Clinton didn’t win, and the TPP sank to the bottom of the Pacific after the fellow who did threw it overboard. A new TPP was signed, now called the CPTPP, but without the United States, and it wasn’t as profitable for us as we hoped.

Typically, conservative Republicans have been the American tribe that was friendly to international trade and we could count on them to help defeat global protectionism. But the political world is topsy-turvy right now.

In Western nations, conservative politicians have become protectionists, as they desperately try to garner the votes of “working folks,” often in manufacturing roles that are under pressure from lower-cost labour from abroad.

It was once the role of liberal Democrats to defend those jobs. In the U.S., the Obama administration was made up of more global thinkers, seeing prosperity at home as supported by a bigger middle class around the world. Growing that middle class became a priority for them.

The administration of current U.S. President Donald Trump lobbied formerly Democratic, working class voters by telling them it would “make American great again” through trade-protectionist policies.

Former Democrat party voters flocked to that message. After all, it appeared their party had turned its back on them when it came to trade and was making free-trade agreements that would further undermine their domestic production.

If the Democrats had flopped back to Obama-era trade policy, that would have potentially been better for Canada. But they haven’t. In some cases they are suggesting an even more protectionist agenda might occur if they win the current U.S. election.

Enter Canada’s dependence on trade, where production far outstrips our domestic consumption and any growth will be for export.

The current government has a $70 billion agriculture and food export target in mind, a 40 percent increase. Australia, a competing ag exporting power, has an 80 percent boost being touted by its current crop of politicians, with their $100 billion plan.

Both countries will have to contend with an America that is shifting toward an anti-trade agenda. U.S. farmers have been well-supported by non-farming taxpayers during the current Sino-American trade war, but farm groups are starting to show signs of concern for the loss of international markets.

Canadian culture must adopt global trading in all things as fundamental to our existence as a nation. Governments will come and go, so the need must be held deeper.

In the meantime, our governments must invest far more in export development, until ship-loading is as Canadian as loons, beavers, maple syrup and northern lights.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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