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.
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,”