Canada’s work to reform WTO a step in the right direction

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing

Canada’s efforts to reform the World Trade Organization are commendable.

It is apparent more countries are deciding to turn inward rather than focusing on multilateral trade relationships. The United States, India, Italy and others have all taken internal actions that have negatively impacted the ability of Canadian farmers to enter those markets.

Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance executive director Claire Citeau was correct when she recently told members of a parliamentary committee on international trade that “clear worries remain” for the future of producers in Canada.

“Chief among them is fear that this crisis will bring about new trade barriers and other forms of protectionisms, and that trade commitments will not be followed,” she said.

While the ushering in of a new North American trade deal is promising, the near-term outlook for Canada increasing its market share on the international stage doesn’t look as bright.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement locks in stability and predictability with our greatest trading partner, but concerns with that deal remain.

Food processors are worried there will be implications for labelling regulations in the United States, for example. And the Canadian sugar industry is anxiously observing the level of access that will truly be offered under the new deal.

Those anxieties are in front of a backdrop that features a U.S. administration willing to openly violate rules of international trade law and, at the same time, tout nationalistic policies.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has fallen short of expectations. CAFTA and others complain the EU employs technical or non-tariff trade barriers to restrict the flow of Canadian agriculture goods to member countries. The benefit from the deal has been underwhelming for many producers.

Other trading partner prospects are slim — a deal with the post-Brexit United Kingdom isn’t likely to happen until at least 2021, and experts aren’t predicting it to be world changing for Canadian producers.

So while Canada’s current trade relationships are not perfect, at a bare minimum they need to be maintained to alleviate the worries felt by Citeau and others.

Ensuring that happens involves an effort to demonstrate, on a global level, a commitment to maintaining multilateral trade.

Canada is doing that. Through the work of the Ottawa group, which comprises nations looking to reform the World Trade Organization, Canada has taken a leadership role in trying to ensure the future of multilateral trade.

“We can only fear what may come ahead, in particular as countries talk about the need to turn in more to secure their own food supply,” Citeau said, arguing diversity in supply chains is what has fed the world throughout the crisis and is what will work in the future.

“We need to push on the pedal and diversify and make sure that trade works and is based on rules.”

Victories of the Ottawa group have so far been small but significant.

Finding an alternative to the WTO’s dispute resolution process, currently rendered ineffective due to U.S. refusal to approve a new appointment to the appellant body where disputes are heard, is important because having such a system in place is integral to foreign trade relationships.

It is good that Canada is a part of that group of 17 nations openly siding with multilateral trade.

In the current world context, it might be all Canadians can ask for.

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