The federal Liberals have targeted a free trade deal with China as its first priority. A push to finalize a long-awaited trade arrangement with India is also on the agenda.
Most small “c” conservative opponents of the Liberal government recognize the obvious benefits of establishing greater ties with an economic powerhouse like China. They may even go as far as Sun Media national columnist Anthony Furey, who tweeted on Jan. 5, “Best decision from Trudeau to date. Kudos.”
I certainly approve of a larger free trade deal with China, too. At the same time, I believe that the Trudeau Liberals can do better. Much, much better.
In the first place, we have already established trade relations with China. This country has been our second-largest trading partner (behind the U.S.) for more than a decade. Meanwhile, we became China’s 13th largest trading partner as of 2010. More trade is good, of course, but trade already exists.
Second, China is in the midst of an economic slowdown. Heavy reliance on investment, combined with weak levels of consumption spending, have helped reduce the country’s gross domestic product level and miss annual economic growth targets (in spite of what the government often says). Hence, the timing for Canada’s interest in a free trade deal with China isn’t necessarily the best.
Third, China is too much of a comfortable political choice for Trudeau. His father, after all, had a strong relationship with the Chinese government and was one of the first western leaders to recognize this Communist nation. While it’s easy to understand why our prime minister (or any world leader) wants to increase economic relations with China, his family’s long association with the country should have led him in a different direction.
In this same vein, Trudeau should start following his Tory predecessor’s lead and build new free trade deals with other countries.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper pursued new and/or enhanced trade arrangements with the European Union, India, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea and the Asia Pacific Gateway. He also helped move along the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will, in time, liberalize trade and reduce restrictive tariffs in the Pacific Rim.
The reason I bring this up isn’t because of my past association with Harper. Rather, it’s because the former PM was rightly concerned about Canada’s over-reliance on the U.S. for trade and economic matters. He greatly respected our largest friend, ally and trading partner. At the same time, Harper believed that our country, a middle power, could still have a huge economic impact in different parts of the world. To do so, it needed to create a greater presence in the global marketplace and build financial relations with more countries, regions and areas.
The Liberals are far more left-leaning when it comes to economics, but they understand the basic need for trade, free markets and competition. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in particular, supported reciprocity (or free trade) with the U.S. in the 1911 federal election. While he was unsuccessful in this campaign, he left an indelible legacy that other Liberals have been wise enough to emulate for more than a century.
Hence, Trudeau needs to follow in Laurier’s giant footsteps, too.
This can be accomplished in various ways. Explore growing trade zones in Africa and Asia. Help reduce tariffs in European markets. Push for a strong open skies policy for domestic and international airlines to increase competition. And, while he’s at it, remove restrictive foreign ownership policies in Canada that prevent more international investment, jobs and opportunities.
That’s how Trudeau could earn real praise from his political rivals for free trade initiatives. Concentrating on increased trade relations with China is certainly relevant, but it’s hardly original.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.