Last month, Canadian premiers reaffirmed their support for Canada’s trade agenda. Enhanced trade and investment with China and India, market access through the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the rapid conclusion of a deal with the European Union all made it into the final communiqué of the Council of the Federation meeting.
This is good news for Canadian businesses that rely on trade agreements to break down barriers to their goods and services and ensure a level playing field with foreign competitors. And, as these agreements increasingly go beyond traditional tariffs and quotas and stretch into the jurisdiction of the provinces, it’s important to have their endorsement. In the case of the Canada-EU deal, the provinces effectively sit at the negotiating table.
This inclusiveness adds credibility to Canada’s trade commitments once a deal is signed, but it can also have the opposite effect during negotiations. Numerous provincial demands have complicated Canada’s position in the Canada-EU talks, injecting considerable uncertainty during the final stages. Add to this the EU’s own need to consult 28 member states, and it’s not surprising an agreement has been so elusive. The premiers are right to actively seek a voice in these talks, but the final calculations and decisions remain and should remain the responsibility of the Canadian government.
It would have also been nice to see the communiqué address the role of provinces in trade promotion. As Canada expands its diplomatic presence in new markets, so too have the provinces. New services and marketing initiatives are a blessing for many companies, particularly SMEs. But the impact of these efforts will be limited unless they come under the broader umbrella of brand Canada. In China and India, we’re competing for attention with giants like the U.S., Japan and Germany, and we can’t afford a fragmented approach.
The same applies at home. More frequent incoming trade delegations and competing demands on federal resources means that provincial, municipalities and regions, along with their respective chambers of commerce and boards of trade, are increasingly having to step up. Yet Ottawa can still provide support—and do so on the cheap. One idea would be to create an e-portal or wiki where organizations can keep informed of incoming visits and collaborate in real-time on delegate programs. By drawing on and coordinating the unique capabilities of different regions, we can better match businesses from abroad with the most promising investment opportunities, suppliers and partners here in Canada.
A more active role for the provinces in trade matters is a welcome development. But this role needs to be clearly defined, coordinated and supported to ensure Canada’s commercial diplomacy is more than just a sum of its parts.
Image by elpuoft (cc)