West’s trade expertise helps Canada

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There is an expression in international diplomacy that serves as a counterbalance to the hostile dust-ups sometimes seen in times of conflict. It’s called “soft power” — the ways a country can show it’s at odds with another nation’s agenda, to push back in a meaningful but constructive way.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/02/2017 (2050 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is an expression in international diplomacy that serves as a counterbalance to the hostile dust-ups sometimes seen in times of conflict. It’s called “soft power” — the ways a country can show it’s at odds with another nation’s agenda, to push back in a meaningful but constructive way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s friendly engagement with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington last week was in line with the constructive approach. More meaningful, however, was Canada’s success in moving the new Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) to approval by the European Union.

CETA, dubbed the Canadian trade model, gives Canadian producers, manufacturers and exporters duty-free access for 99 per cent of goods currently under tariff in Europe. It has been extolled by Europeans and other nations as the way to go.

FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signs CETA with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and European Council president Donald Tusk in October.

Canada is rightly proud of this achievement. It is exemplary of soft power because, in the face of growing protectionist sentiment and threats south of the border to overturn established trade deals, our nation persisted. It never wavered on its belief in global trade — tearing down, not constructing, walls in international relations. Think of it this way: our trade relations can be seen as the other liberal-democratic bookend to Canada’s open arms on immigration.

Trade is critically important to Canada, supporting some 60 per cent of its GDP, and 3.3 million jobs. It is just as important to Manitoba, where fully half of the GDP and the jobs of 240,000 residents are tied to trade.

Trade matters.

Lesser known, perhaps, is that Western Canada and specifically Manitoba have played a key role in championing trade and investing in trade-enabling “assets” to get the job done.

Canadians today are hearing a lot about the vital connection between trade and strategic infrastructure investment. The easy way to imagine this is that trade is the heart of Canada’s economy and trade-enabling infrastructure — rail, air, marine and inland ports and highways and border crossings — makes up the arteries that keep the blood moving, the heart pumping.

Long before trade and the need for trade-enabling infrastructure landed the national attention now seen, the Western Canada Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association, of which we are a member, was leading the ground work that established the now widely accepted connection between seamless, efficient trade links and definable returns to the economy. Those links were laid out in two reports by the Canada West Foundation, in 2012 and again 2014, commissioned by the Canadian Construction Association and based on the association’s lead.

In fact, based on policy developed in the 1980s by the association and then advanced with national organizations, successive federal governments — starting with the Chrétien Liberals in 1993 — were persuaded to craft national infrastructure investment strategies, leveraging other public and private dollars with multi-year building funds.

The current Building Canada Fund is the latest iteration of the concept, which stands as one of Western Canada’s best exports — to the rest of the country.

So, back to CETA. Getting that agreement inked means Canada stands to boost exports and imports. It is an investment in the economy; the West has to be ready to meet the potential it holds.

Western Canada, again, is already working on that. The association and its provincial member associations are encouraging governments, the private sector and business organizations to rally to a coordinated, strategic investment strategy for trade infrastructure. A proposal, called Trade Team West, has been circulating in the region’s government departments, the premiers’ offices, business groups and associations since last summer.

It has an ambitious agenda, but basically its message is this: not every infrastructure project is created equal — we must invest in those that will hold the greatest economic return. We must elevate projects that enable trade. The business plan must leverage private-sector dollars, alongside public-sector seed funding.

Trade Team West has had good reception. What is interesting is that its core principles, which echo those espoused for years by our industry, are increasingly getting picked up by national trade and business organizations. Last week, as the ink on CETA was drying, the Business Council of Canada sent a letter to Trudeau reiterating some of them — streamlining the regulatory process for major private-sector infrastructure projects; adopting tax policy to boost competitiveness; making Canada an international trade hub.

This is all good news, for Western Canada and the country. And we say good on Trudeau for holding ground and keeping trade liberalization a hallmark of the Canadian way.

It’s soft power, yes. But undoubtedly powerful.

Chris Lorenc is president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and the Western Canada Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association.

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