Commentary from Colin Robertson

Canada-EU trade deal close to completion. Now the hard work begins 

by Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail
September 16, 2014

There will be justified celebration later next week when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso meet to mark the end of negotiations over the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). 

These agreements open doors. Now we must take advantage of them.

Translating CETA’s potential into real gains requires all levels of government, working with business, to get our goods and services to market and then to sell them within the EU.

The agreements realize the long-held Canadian goal of closer economic links with Europe. CETA sets the standard for the next generation of trade deals including the EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
CETA has been a long time coming.

A trans-Atlantic economic community was meant to complement the NATO collective security pact (1949) but there was insufficient business interest on either side of the Atlantic. In the mid-1970s, Pierre Trudeau sought counterweights to the United States through contractual links with Europe and Japan but there was little business appetite.

Brian Mulroney’s vision and determination convinced Canadians that our sovereignty would be enhanced, rather than jeopardized, through freer trade with the United States. Jean Chrétien finessed Liberal opposition to freer trade through the NAFTA environmental and labour accords. Enlisting the premiers, Mr. Chrétien successfully marketed the Canada brand through the Team Canada missions, at the same time demonstrating the kind of political leadership still essential in Asian markets.

Our economy enjoyed a decade of trade-inspired growth, convincing Canadians that we can successfully compete globally.

The Harper government is deservedly self-congratulatory over the negotiation of CETA. The end game was long, calling on the patience of the EU’s Mr. Barroso and Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

CETA confirms the provinces as full partners in Canadian trade negotiations. They have competence, especially in marketing, and share constitutional authority in many of the areas, like procurement, that now dominate trade negotiations.

CETA owes much to provincial initiative. Then-Quebec premier Jean Charest convinced then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy to champion the start of negotiations. As Quebec’s chief negotiator, former premier Pierre-Marc Johnson, managed the transitions in Quebec governments while maintaining a pan-Canadian approach.

Business wanted this deal. The Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, notably Roy McLaren and Jason Langrish, were tireless advocates and intermediaries in making it happen. Their continued involvement is essential. We need their help in identifying CETA business champions within the EU.

CETA is still many months from implementation. After the legal scrub, the deal requires translation into 24 official languages, approvals by the EU Council and Parliament, then ratification by its 28 member states. Canadian legislation – federal and provincial – will also be required.

The intervening months should be used to better position ourselves for CETA. 

First, we need to get our house in order:

  • Build the infrastructure to get our goods to market including construction of the west-east pipelines and terminals.
  • Renovate our roads and rail, ports and airports. The Harper government’s new ‘Building Canada’ plan is a good start but we need a national transportation strategy.
  • Get on with freer trade internally, including reform of supply management. 

Second, we need to market our goods and services within the European Union:

  • Concentrate on those sectors and services where we have a competitive edge: mining, agriculture, animal health and research, oil and gas, financial services, aerospace.
  • Make the Canadian brand in products, like pork and beef, a premium product, as New Zealand has done with its lamb.
  • Position ourselves into existing EU supply chains, taking advantage of our access to the United States and Mexico and our gateway to the Pacific.
  • Restart the Canada-EU Energy Dialogue to focus on transportation and infrastructure. Our oil and gas offers reliable, strategic energy security, an alternative to current EU dependence on Russia and the Middle East.
  • Resurrect the “Team Canada” playbook through partnering all levels of government in marketing our goods and services. The practical work of matchmaking companies has already started through the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters’ Enterprise Canada network.
  • Set targets for each EU country. CETA forecast a 23 per cent increase in trade. Incorporate these metrics into our ambassadors’ mandate letters.
  • Rethink selling off our official residences. Instead, use them as marketing platforms. Mr. Chrétien, arguably our best salesman-prime minister, understood that you don’t do diplomacy from your basement. 

With CETA finally negotiated, our attention turns to the systematic marketing of a “Made in Canada” brand that is synonymous with reliable delivery, excellent service and superior products. 

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior adviser to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP 


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