Progressive Internationalism: Can Canada move the world’s progressive needle using trade agreements

As Canada navigates the fraught re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the Trump administration, the reanimation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the U.S.-abandoned Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and a possible free trade deal with China, Justin Trudeau’s policy of “progressive internationalism” is being tested.

This week on Before the Bell, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne defended the progressive trade policy in light of challenges and possible further trade deals with other nations.

“Our progressive trade agenda is about making sure that trade works for people,” said Champagne.

Progressive internationalism is a policy that incorporates into trade agreements progressive standards and practices with respect to labour, the environment, gender and indigenous rights.

The policy has been greeted with derision in some quarters, particularly by China, which sees the proposed provisions as an infringement on its sovereignty, and by the U.S., which has reportedly cited Trudeau’s progressive agenda as a deal-breaker. In a poll of Before the Bell audience participants, 58 per cent said Canada’s tough stance on progressive internationalism is helping Canada while 42 per cent indicated it was hurting. In discussing the question, the Before the Bell pundits’ panel added their opinions.

When asked directly if it was helping or hurting, former U.S. diplomat Sarah Goldfeder, a principal with Earnscliffe Strategy Group, said it was both. “Depending on the agreement. In Europe I think it is going to be helpful and in TPP I think it is going to be a real challenge in getting to a deal.”

Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research, predicted that in twenty years, progressive trade would be the norm. “The problem for Canada is when you are the first, no else is in that frame…and it makes it very difficult.”

Amy Karam, president of Karam Consulting added, “We are ahead of the wave on this and I think pulling in our allies is going to be really important. Strength in numbers.”

The government believes that a progressive internationalism agenda is a reflection of Canadian values. “You cannot do trade today like you did a few decades ago. You’re leaving too many people behind.” said Champagne.

Before the Bell co-host Catherine Clark and International Trade Minister The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne – photo courtesy of Twitter

Champagne says that Canada won’t be doing more trade by encouraging partners to lower standards, and that thanks to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe (CETA), more countries are looking to replicate its progressive elements in other trade deals. “That’s how you move the needle. That’s how you make progress in the world.”

The forest products industry is already making adjustments to be more progressive.

Derek Nighbor, CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, cited two examples including “the ongoing role forestry plays in engagement on the ground with indigenous peoples in terms of planning, and the role forestry plays in mitigating carbon and climate change.”

Mairead Lavery, senior vice president, business development with Export Development Canada insists that the progressive internationalism agenda fits nicely with Canadian company strengths.

“Clean tech is a wonderful example, where you have a progressive agenda item of the environment linked to a strength which is our Canadian clean tech companies,” Lavery said.

Champagne said that for too long, trade was leaving too many people behind, which was why there is a focus on protecting workers and the environment, and promoting women.

“Trade is not a race to the bottom – it’s a march to the top,”

3 Responses to “Progressive Internationalism: Can Canada move the world’s progressive needle using trade agreements”

  1. gravatar Robert Bradley

    Instilling all the human considerations that one or some countries are looking for is similar to how the EU operated and why the common person in Britain voted to Brexit the EU. It will be thousand of years and probably never where all people will think alike in fact I hope we never get that way. For now trade is trade and that’s it.

  2. gravatar Kevin Smith

    In the 1970’s there was universal hysteria pertaining to global cooling. The best scientists were predicting an ice age by 2020. Let’s hope the newest generation of scientists will be skeptics and eventually prove this latest political hoax of human caused climate change as again a political case of crying wolf, taking advantage of humanities tendancy to act like sheep. Meanwhile we have to damage our economy and our competitive advantage.

  3. gravatar Gary Champagne

    China is right re: concerns about international trade agreements that threaten the sovereignty of nations. (Unless of course your only concern is bottomline financial growth, all else be damned.) You’d think so-called “democratic” countries would be raising those red flags. Then again most of those ” democratc” countries have rope-a-doped their people into believing they are still democratic countries when in reality they are managed by sock-puppet governments that chart their course according to the profit interests of deep pocketed Corporate masters rather than the longer-term best interests of their citizens. Corporations lead, govts. follow. Economy trumps ecology. Profits before people.


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