Ottawa renews commitment to open trade

Trade minister says Canada’s approach to the threats facing global trade is to build alliances with like-minded nations

Canada isn’t backing away from its commitment to open and expansive export trade, according to International Trade Minister Mary Ng.

Neither growing protectionist sentiment nor the pandemic should knock Canada off its willingness to be a champion of world trade.

“We need to create more and open trade,” Ng said to the Conseil des Relations Internationales de Montreal Nov. 8.

Ng said Canada’s approach to the threats facing global trade is to build alliances with like-minded nations.

“I have been working with my colleagues around the G20 (group of economic powers), the WTO (World Trade Organization), the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) and many others to make sure our supply chains stay open, businesses can continue their work and that goods and services can flow,” said Ng.

Key to Ottawa’s approach is to work closely with members of the “Ottawa Group,” which is a loose organization of 13 world players who still adhere to the rules of the WTO and free trade.

They want to preserve the WTO, which has been under threat from the American refusal to allow new appellant judges to be appointed, and from the protectionist actions of other states. They also want to modernize and improve the WTO.

Ng is promoting a view shared by a number of geopolitical analysts, who see middle powers like Canada as having little influence by themselves, but able to defend rules-based trade if they can assert common causes with sufficient numbers of middle-power nations.

Canada’s hopes for ever-expanding global trade, key to the future growth of many of Canada’s industries including most of agriculture, have been severely challenged by the United States, China and protectionism in other countries in recent years.

The election of Joe Biden as U.S. president brings to power a man who is not a vocal free-trader or necessarily a fan of globalization, but one who is seen as a supporter of a rules-based international order and multilateral organizations.

That provides some room for hope that the WTO can be preserved and the U.S. will return to the rules-based trading camp.

“Canada needs to retain and to increase our share of tangible trade,” said Ng.

The growth of agri-tech and clean-tech offers potential as the “logical extensions of our traditional trade in food and natural resources. They represent strategic, enormous opportunities for growth in that post-COVID global landscape.

“They will be at the forefront of strong and sustainable economic recovery,” said Ng.

However, only 12 percent of Canada’s small and medium-sized businesses report that they export goods.

That’s something Ng wants to see change, and she wants Canada’s export “tools,” such as Export Development Canada, to help small and medium-sized businesses grow and help Canada’s economy by moving more aggressively into export markets.

“We need to do better,” said Ng.

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