Things aren’t going too well in the international trade agreement department. At the World Trade Organization (WTO) round, which has been dragging along since 1991, it’s come to the point where the director general is actually being honest about its prospects.
“Taking an overview of all of these consultations it is hard to see a way forward. There has been no progress on the gateway issues. We still have no convergence… As things stand I see very little prospect of delivering the substantive, meaningful work program which we have been aiming towards,” he said in a statement last week.
Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — that’s the “NAFTA on steroids” deal between North America and Pacific Rim countries. If you read the Globe and Mail or National Post, you might think that that’s the one which is all but signed except for Canada agreeing to drop supply management.
Not quite. The thing is that most countries don’t want to get down to final details with the U.S. until the president is given authority to sign the deal. That required “fast-track” authority from both houses of Congress. After initially voting against the deal because of a complicated political connection on protecting workers’ rights, the U.S. House of Representatives reversed its vote and gave approval last week. But fast-track approval still requires three more votes in the Senate, so it’s not a slam dunk yet. The real negotiations on the TPP won’t start until fast track is approved, and there’s an election year coming in the U.S., so don’t hold your breath.
Then there’s the free trade agreement with Europe, which Prime Minister Harper announced last year, but in reality is nowhere near complete and which is starting to get political push-back in Europe. That’s partly due to the Europeans not viewing Canada in a particularly favourable light these days. The jokes about Canadian tourists sewing U.S. flags onto their backpacks might not be true yet, but it was a bit jarring to read a recent interview with the French environment minister about world climate negotiations. The interviewer specifically asked about what was to be done about Canada, the “mauvaise élève” (bad student) of the G7.
Canada’s weak stance on cutting greenhouse gas is an international embarrassment, including to farmers and companies representing them. We hear more talk than ever these days about the importance of “branding.” Arguably one of the most successful branding efforts in Canadian history has been the reputation we’ve established for quality grains and oilseeds.
Whether you agree with climate change theory or reality doesn’t matter. Virtually everyone else does, and Canadians — and Canadian farmers — need to be seen as good global citizens or their interests will suffer. Trade agreements may be a good thing — if they are ever signed. In the meantime, Canadian marketers need to continue making sales overseas, based in part on the Canadian “brand.” It’s being tarnished by our stance on reducing greenhouse gas.