The need to deepen trade, investment and other ties across the Western Hemisphere was a major theme of a speech delivered earlier this week in Washington by Minister of International Trade François-Philippe Champagne at the 47th Annual Conference on the Americas, co-hosted by the Council of Americas and the U.S. State Department.
In prepared remarks, minister Champagne promoted Canada’s “progressive approach to trade,” which he defined as “ensuring that all segments of society can take advantage of, and otherwise benefit from, the opportunities that flow from trade and investment.”
“We need to think differently about how we pursue trade,” Champagne said, warning those attending the conference that “if we are not in the business of securing the social license to pursue an ambitious trade agenda then we will succumb to the forces opposed to it.”
As an example of “progressive trade” and the many Canadian companies that he said were taking “innovative approaches to sharing the benefits of trade in the markets where they are established,” Champagne cited the case of Vancouver-based Teck Resources that last year formed a partnership with the United Nations to empower indigenous women in northern regions of Chile and address the various barriers to their active political and economic participation.
Champagne said that Canada is currently “working hard to realize an ambitious agenda of trade diversification” – a fairly clear signal to the Trump administration that Ottawa has other options and is now more committed than ever before to developing alternative export markets. In this regard, the minister said “there are lucrative opportunities around the world for Canadian companies” and highlighted the renewed possibility of a free-trade deal with the Mercosur countries of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay), as well as increased cooperation with another Latin American trading bloc, the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru).
Notwithstanding such diversification efforts, Champagne stressed the vital importance of the trading partnership between Canada and the United States, stating that “no two countries have a stronger relationship.” The minister pointed out that the U.S. sold $322 billion worth of goods and services to Canada last year, making it the number one customer for most states and the source for nearly 9 million jobs in the U.S. that are supported by trade and investment with Canada – a talking point that has been repeated endlessly by federal and provincial government officials over the past several months in meetings with their American counterparts.
Champagne also mounted an unequivocal defense of NAFTA, saying it had resulted in the creation of a highly successful North American production platform, “with fully integrated economies, supply chains and logistics processes that criss-cross the continent.” The landmark deal, he boasted, “has helped create the biggest, most competitive economic region in the world” with combined trade totaling almost $1 trillion, a fourfold increase since 1993.
Calling it “an excellent agreement that has benefitted all sides,” Champagne told the conference that the Trudeau government believes it would be in the best interest of all three countries to preserve NAFTA as a trilateral agreement.