In The Media

Americas strategy? It takes three to tango

by Colin Robertson

Globe and Mail
April 3, 2012

Our size and global placement give Canadians multiple perspectives as we compete in the international market. But these advantages too often distract us, at a time when we need to focus and follow-through.

History and early trading patterns make us an Atlantic nation. With half of all new Canadians coming from Asia, we now have a Pacific outlook that we embrace. Our climate is a constant reminder that we’re also a northern country, and the Harper government has made the Arctic a priority.

As we were reminded by Monday’s trilateral summit in Washington, we are also a nation of the Americas. Our propinquity to the United States has always been a challenge – initially around security, then through cultural seduction – as well as an economic opportunity promised by the world’s biggest market.

For most of our history, with the exception of the Commonwealth Caribbean relationships, we avoided our neighbours south of the Rio Grande. It was a Latin land of dictators and revolutions. Besides, since the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. had staked its hegemony.

NAFTA gave us a serious relationship with Mexico but, as Monday’s summit illustrated, we continue to be a somewhat reluctant partner.

Taking advantage of our shared continent is a good idea, but it requires vision and boldness if we’re to realize the advantage of resources, market and labour. For now, trilateralism is on life support.

As we saw again Monday, these meetings are essentially “dual bilaterals” between Mexico and the U.S. and then, time permitting, between Canada and the U.S. We have to await the outcome of this year’s elections in Mexico and the U.S. before we can revive the North American idea.

Mexico deserves our support in combatting the drug menace as well as in developing its institutions. If we can wage war in Afghanistan and Libya, then surely we can lend a helping hand in our neighbourhood.

We also have increasing commercial interests. The World Bank says Mexico is the easiest place in Latin America to run a business and, by mid-century, Goldman Sachs reckons the country will be the world’s fifth-largest economy, bigger than that of Germany, Russia and Japan.

Meantime, we should be doing useful continental planning around our shared infrastructure – roads and rail, electrical grids and pipelines and at our gateways. And as soon as we fix our made-in-Canada refugee problem, let’s lift the visa for Mexicans.

With the exception of our ongoing commitment to Haiti, Canadian efforts toward the rest of the Americas have been characterized by quixotic spasms of tango-like embrace – joining the Organization of American States and committing to the now-moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas – followed by a long siesta.

The Harper government developed an Americas strategy with an emphasis on democratic governance, prosperity and security. We’ve made progress through a series of boutique trade agreements, but the grand strategy has been slow to take shape. As we approach this month’s Summit of the Americas, it’s ready for a “reset.”

It takes two to tango, and Latin American governments share responsibility for not taking advantage of Canadian interest and opportunities. During Stephen Harper’s visit to Brazil last year, he promised to be ambitious, saying that, for “too long a time we neglected relations. … Too much grass grows in the cracks on the road between out two great countries.”

Ambition is important. But so is perseverance.

Mr. Harper will need to devote more time and energy if we’re to demonstrate that there are more steps in our dance repertoire. The Canadian business community is engaged. Our mining companies are especially active, and our banks have long had a presence in the Caribbean that has since expanded, notably into Mexico.

Business can be a driving force for taking the relationship to the next level. Twenty years of freer trade has given Canadian companies experience and confidence that they can compete on the wider world stage. As we have learned in Asia, however, our commercial interests are advanced when ministers are there to show the flag.

For Canadians, the U.S. market and relationship will always remain No. 1, and we can take some comfort from Barack Obama’s promise on Monday to make the border “faster and cheaper to travel and trade.”

But the slow economic recovery increases the likelihood of renewed protectionism. Even when it’s not aimed at Canada, we are always at risk through collateral damage. It’s why, while we need always to keep our focus on the U.S., we should look to other markets in the Americas, starting with Mexico. And if we’re to keep the grass from growing back in the cracks, we need a good plan, perseverance and senior political level follow-through.

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


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

An Update on NAFTA: Can We Get To A Deal?

September 17, 2018

On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we continue our discussion on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Join host Colin Robertson in conversation with CGAI Fellows Sarah Goldfeder and Eric Miller as they recap the past few weeks of NAFTA negotiations, outline the enduring hot-button issues, and provide some predictions on whether the three NAFTA parties can get to a deal before the end of September.



EXPERTS IN THE MEDIA

Canada wants a UN Security Council seat. Here’s why

by Ben Mulroney (feat. David Perry), CTV Your Morning, September 21, 2018

NAFTA talks pause after U.S., Canada discuss ‘tough issues’

by Josh Wingrove (feat. Eric Miller), BNN Bloomberg, September 20, 2018

NAFTA negotiations ‘grinding forward’: Trade expert

by Catherine Murray (feat. Eric Miller), BNN Bloomberg, September 20, 2018

Canada should not ‘jump in the lake’ with U.S. on tax reforms, despite competitiveness worries: Mintz

by Jesse Synder (feat. Brian Kingston), Financial Post, September 20, 2018

House of Commons declares Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya a genocide

by Michelle Zilio (feat. Kyle Matthews), The Globe and Mail, September 20, 2018

Canada boosts oil exports to the U.S.

by Tim Daiss (feat. Kevin Birn), OilPrice.com, September 20, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email