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A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and hosts its regular Global Exchange podcast.  He is an Executive Fellow at the… Read more »

Canada and UN Security Council seat

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Canada keeps up push for UN Security Council seat during COVID-19 crisis

Mike Blanchfield / The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The COVID-19 pandemic ended the secret handshakes and deal-making in the world’s power corridors, but Canada’s campaign for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council is full steam ahead.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould confirmed the continuing campaigning in separate interviews with The Canadian Press this past week.

They say Canada’s voice on the world’s most powerful decision-making body is needed more than ever because of the big decisions that lie ahead in managing the pandemic and its aftermath.

Canada faces tough competition from Norway and Ireland for the two available seats for a temporary two-year term that would start next year.

Both countries are viewed widely as having an advantage because they spend far more than Canada on international development to poor countries and have far more military personnel deployed on UN peacekeeping missions — two key issues for UN member countries.

Champagne and Gould say that Canada’s international stature has grown because of its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which so far includes a $50-million foreign aid package, but some ex-diplomats say Canada needs to spend more in that area to win votes.

“The UN Security Council is the body that determines how the world reacts to issues of global security and instability,” said Gould, adding that it has never been more important to have a “rational voice” on the 10 rotating, non-permanent members of the council.

“It just demonstrates why it is important for Canada to sit on the UN Security Council. That campaign carries on, but in a different way.”

After taking part in a teleconference with fellow G7 foreign ministers this past week, Champagne said Canada’s membership in that exclusive club of leading nations would help it in the ongoing UN campaign.

“Canada has been chairing or organizing a number of calls with G7 countries,” he said. He said Canada has “a voice that is much needed in the world where we need to co-operate, co-ordinate and work together. I think Canada brings something unique to the table.

“I think more and more countries want to see their voice amplified through Canada.”

That includes during the pandemic itself, he said, “but also once we will be in the post-COVID world (we) will need countries like Canada to be there.”

Canada’s international credibility has also risen in recent months because of the role it has taken in leading the quest to get answers from Iran about its January downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, as well its recent completion of a new North American trade deal, said Colin Robertson, a seasoned ex-diplomat.

“The new responsibilities of middle-power status, especially G7 and G20 membership, differentiates us from Norway and Ireland,” said Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Canada’s shortfalls in peacekeeping and foreign aid remain a crippling factor in the UN bid, but the COVID-19 crisis gives it an opportunity to make up for it that, said Stephen Lewis, Canada’s UN ambassador in the 1980s.

Canada received negative reviews for its “brief peacekeeping mission in Mali” and for pulling out earlier than the UN wanted, said Lewis, who remains active in UN circles as one of the leaders of an international organization trying to stamp out abuse by peacekeepers.

“Although Canada may consider that trivial, it registers deeply with the international peacekeeping community around the world, countries whose vote Canada would want,” said Lewis.

That can be rectified by giving cash — “several hundred million” — to the African Union for its peacekeeping operations and increasing its foreign aid contribution to COVID-19 well beyond the current $50 million, which Lewis calls, “woefully inadequate.” He said Canada’s fair share would be $140 million at minimum.

“The government espouses generosity: in fact, they’re begrudging pretenders,” said Lewis.

Spending matters more than ever, especially during the pandemic, and especially in Africa where 54 of the UN General Assembly’s 190-plus countries hold a crucial bloc of votes in the Security Council election, said Bessma Momani, an international affairs expert at the University of Waterloo.

So far, Canada’s $50-million pledge looks modest, and individual African countries will want more, she said.

“If I were an African government expecting COVID-19 to knock on my door any minute now, maybe if you’re choosing between Norway and Ireland, I would use that as leverage … If you want me to vote, where’s my help?” said Momani.

Canada should campaign to address a more pressing need at the Security Council — the fact that it has been missing in action in combatting the pandemic, according to the Canadian-led World Refugee Council. Its leading members include former UN ambassadors Allan Rock and Paul Heinbecker, and Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s foreign minister when the country last served on the council two decades ago.

“The Security Council’s silence is a troubling symptom of the deep dysfunction that has beset its 15-member body in recent years,” the group said in a statement.

“As Canada campaigns for one of those seats in this year’s election, it should pledge in its platform to bring the Security Council back to life and face up to its responsibilities.”

The pandemic raises questions about whether the General Assembly, whose members are to hold a vote in June, will be able to meet to hold an election.

The Security Council has been meeting recently via video conference so it is conceivable that the General Assembly could convene that way in June, said Adam Chapnick, a Royal Military College professor and author of a new book on the Security Council.

“That said, there is a real chance that this pandemic will be significantly worse (at least in the global south, where it is only beginning) in a few months, so I suspect that we will be in unprecedented territory by the time the meetings are supposed to be held,” Chapnick said.

“Still, I can’t imagine that an election won’t be held, because the seats do have to be filled.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2020.

Assessing G20

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G20 to do ‘whatever it takes’ to combat coronavirus, says Trudeau

The Group of 20 major economies have agreed to do “whatever it takes” to overcome the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

Trudeau took part in the extraordinary summit called by Saudi King Salman by video link.

Saudi Arabia, the current G20 chair, called the summit amid earlier criticism of the group’s slow response to the disease that has infected more than 511,000 people worldwide, killed more than 23,000, and is expected to trigger a global recession.

Flattening the global curve

Speaking at his regular press briefing from the porch of his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Trudeau said the 90-minute conference of world leaders covered a wide range of subjects.

“We talked about the need for a coordinated global response, that is something that the G20 is particularly well-suited to move forward on and we need to make sure that we’re continuing to exchange information and align in the actions we take,” Trudeau said.

The G20 leaders also talked about the need to flatten the global curve, Trudeau added.

“Which means beyond just individual countries doing what’s necessary for themselves, we need to work together to have an impact that goes beyond our borders,” Trudeau said.

A $5 trillion global financial injection

The leaders also talked about the need for global economic support, Trudeau said.

The communique released by the leaders announced that the G20 countries are injecting $5 trillion into the global economy through national measures as part of their efforts to lessen the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The G20 represents 85 per cent of the global GDP, Trudeau said.

“We know that we have the capacity to stave off [recession] and to positively impact the economy at this time of significant stress and so we pledged to work together,” Trudeau said.

Help for vulnerable countries

The G20 countries also pledged to help vulnerable countries that don’t have either the science or the health systems to be able to keep their populations safe, including through investments through world global organizations such as the UN, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, Trudeau said.

“We also specifically talked about the challenges facing Africa and how we will be there to support Africa as they face this pandemic as well,” Trudeau said.

Canada will be participating in international efforts to fight COVID-19, Trudeau reiterated.

“We know that support for vulnerable countries who are struggling with the ability to combat this virus is not just about being altruistic, it’s about protecting Canadians as well,” Trudeau said.

“This virus will possibly face resurgences, even once we handle that in Canada and in many countries. Our ability to minimize those resurgences will be linked to help and work with the countries in more dire situations.”

Support for global public health initiatives

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was to address the G20 to seek support for ramping up funding and production of personal protection equipment for health workers amid a global shortage.

“We have a global responsibility as humanity and especially those countries like the G20,” Tedros told a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. “They should be able to support countries all over the world.”

The WHO and national and local public health agencies must be given the resources they need to fight the pandemic, Trudeau said.

“It means working together to develop a vaccine, identify treatments and increase testing,” Trudeau said. “We’re also expanding manufacturing capacity for critical medical and equipment and working to keep the supply chains moving to get that equipment to the people who need it.”

Trudeau defended the federal government’s decision to ship 16 tons of medical equipment and supplies to China in February as it was struggling to contain the epidemic that originated in the central city of Wuhan and then spread to the rest of the world.

“We recognized from the very beginning that this is a global crisis that requires global cooperation and response if we are to keep all of us safe and if we are to keep Canadians safe,” Trudeau said.

“At the same time I can assure everyone that federal stockpiles had been sufficient to meet the needs of the provinces until this point and in the coming days we will be receiving millions more items that are necessary right across the country, at the same time as our business, companies and manufacturers are tooling up production to make sure that we have enough, not just for Canadians for friends and allies around the world, who need them.”

A summit amid global frictions

Despite calls for cooperation, the G20 risks entanglement in an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and frictions between the United States and China over the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said it was important that despite their differences the G20 leaders were able to put out a joint communique even if it didn’t give an immediate sense of action by the leaders themselves.

“If you read it, you’ll see that they have essentially delegated to ministers of health, ministers of finance, foreign ministers and other ministers to report back to them and endorsed the work of the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank,” said Robertson, who is vice president and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think tank.

“I would give them a B+ for effort but I would give them a C- for actual action.”

With files from Reuters

G29 Primer

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The G20 Emergency Meeting: Addressing the COVID-19 Crisis – March 26, 2020


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President and Fellow
March 2020


Table of Contents


With Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the chair, leaders from the G20 will meet virtually on Thursday, March 26 to consider how to respond to the financial and health crisis caused by the coronavirus. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says “global solidarity is not only a moral imperative it is in everyone’s interest”. Yet it is an open question as to whether or not the G20 will be up to the enormous task ahead.

In recent years the G20, representing about 80 per cent of global economic output and two-thirds of the world’s population, has effectively acted as the world’s management board. In times of crisis it is supposed to be the fire brigade. It was financial crises – the Asian and dot.com crashes at the turn of the century – that gave the G20 its birth. Canada’s Paul Martin was the architect, bringing together finance ministers and central bankers. The 2008 crisis raised it to the leaders’ level and in a series of meetings they directed the recovery.



A Difficult Backdrop

The two superpowers or G2 – the U.S. and China – are in the midst of a trade war that is now geo-political as they trade insults over responsibility for the pandemic. It originated, as do most influenzas, in southern China. There is no evidence to suggest it came from the U.S. army as some Chinese and Iranians have claimed. President Donald Trump muses about a return to normalcy by Easter despite the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Chinese officials initially suppressed information about the outbreak, but now China is positioning itself as a global benefactor sending doctors and medical supplies to Italy, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines and Serbia.

Russia, which sees itself as G3, and the Saudis, who chair the G20, are engaged in a pricing battle over the price of oil. A European Union report says Russian agents are mounting a “significant disinformation campaign” to subvert Western and EU countries’ communications around the pandemic.

The Europeans – Germany, UK, France, Italy and their EU leadership – are beset by BREXIT and another migration crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic that is especially afflicting Italy.  Meanwhile the trouble spots – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Venezuela – as well as climate change remain on the agenda, even if COVID-19 has eclipsed them for now.


The Money Problem

The IMF and the World Bank both forecast the pandemic would trigger a global recession in 2020. Many currencies are already plunging, and there is a risk of an emerging markets crisis. Argentina, whose debt has been deemed unsustainable by the IMF, warned fellow G20 member they must act decisively to “avoid a social meltdown”. World Bank president David Malpass is calling on the G20 to provide debt relief for the poorest 75 countries with the Bank providing a multi-billion package for support and procurement.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva calls it, “a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse”. As of March 23, investors have already removed $83 billion from emerging markets since the beginning of the crisis. It’s the largest capital outflow ever-recorded. According to Ms. Georgieva, who expects recovery in 2021, advanced economies are generally in a better position to respond to the crisis, but many emerging markets and low-income countries face significant challenges especially those in debt distress. Some 80 countries have already applied to the IMF for emergency financial relief. She promised to “massively step up emergency finance” and to deploy their US$1 trillion lending capacity for them.

G20 Finance ministers met on Monday and “agreed to closely monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on markets and economic conditions and take further actions to support the economy during and after this phase.”



The Health Crisis

Most western nations are now in lock-down to try to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus plague. World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported on  Monday that over 300,000 cases (and now more than  400,000) of COVID-19 have been reported to WHO, from almost every country in the world. He noted that it took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just 4 days for the third 100,000 cases. As he put it “that’s heartbreaking.” We need, he said “unity in the G20 countries”. He also warned that “small, observational and non-randomized studies will not give us the answers we need. Using untested medicines without the right evidence could raise false hope, and even do more harm than good and cause a shortage of essential medicines that are needed to treat other diseases.”



What should come out of the meeting?

It would be grand if the leaders agreed to a coordinated approach including sharing test treatment results and vaccines; rolling back tariffs on healthcare equipment; and synchronized fiscal action. The International Monetary Fund has both a trust fund for catastrophic containment and relief, as well as a pandemic-financing facility, and both will need replenishing, as well as new thinking on how to keep countries liquid.

There are lots of good ideas.

On the economic front and drawing on the lessons from the 2008-9 experience, nations are opening the taps with fiscal stimulus and monetary easing to preserve liquidity including direct cash disbursements to households. Public trust matters, as the 2008 financial crisis taught us: People must come first. Public money to business should be about bridging loans and equity, rather than bailouts.

The International Chamber of Commerce, the World Health Organization and Business Twenty (B20) call for ensuring infection control and medical products reach the hands of those who need them the most; using the private sector to help meet the need for testing and related reporting; ensuring equitable access and affordability of essential medical supplies and health services; and scaling financial assistance.

On the health side, in a joint statement on pandemic preparedness, the Business 20, Civil 20, Labor 20, Think 20, Women 20 and Youth 20 call on leaders to strengthen global outbreak response capacity and health systems and to facilitate research and development.

Practical measures could include making a global standard of the Global Health Security Index. It’s the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations (IHR [2005]). The Index was developed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHU) and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).


What do we expect from the meeting?

Beyond a promise to keep in close collaboration and to meet again, the danger is that G20 leaders resort to bromides and weasel words. G7 Foreign Ministers met virtually on March 25 and but there was no communiqué. The readout from Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that the meeting focussed on the COVID-19 response and that they also discussed the plight of the Rohingya, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Russia, the Sahel, and Syria. Der Spiegel reported that the meeting could not come to an agreement on the language to be used to describe the pandemic. with the U.S. wanting to call it the “Wuhan virus” and the others saying COVID-19.

For now, it’s ‘Sauve qui peut’ – every nation for itself as borders shut and quarantines are imposed. In looking at the response of G7 and G20 leaders,  NYT Mark Landler observed “their voices are less a choir than a cacophony, with the United States absent from its traditional conductor role.”

Closing borders appeals to the populists, who celebrate the nation state and oppose immigration and globalization. At worst the supply and demand shock could result in a shift back to national self-sufficiency and the unraveling of globalization. “After 9/11 and the 2008 global financial crisis, this is the third big test of our decency and ability to cooperate, because the virus does not respect borders,’’ said Brookings fellow Constanze Stelzenmüller. “We need to cooperate across the board, in health management and fiscal stimulus.”


And if the G20 can’t or won’t act?

We will need a new group of nations to take on the mantle. The leaders of the G20′s multilateral democracies – Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, European Council President Charles Michel and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen – could form the core of this new group that should include the like-minded nations such as Norway, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. Taiwan can offer lessons in reining in the coronavirus and SARS epidemics, even though Taiwan has been denied even observer status in the WHO because of China’s ridiculous demands. The global public needs to see that multilateralism works and that liberal democracies can act decisively while respecting liberty.



Looking Forward

There are no winners in this situation but there are lots of losers. Then there are the 70.8 million displaced persons – twice the population of Canada – living in crowded camps ripe for pandemic, who now find doors shut from even the traditional recipient nations including Canada. According to the UN Migration Agency, as of March 23 at least 174 nations  have issued COVID-19 related travel restrictions,. The International Organization for Migration is tracking the day-by-day shutdown of global mobility pathways.

What is also clear is that this crisis is exposing the failings and costs of an inadequate global healthcare system. According to the World Health Organization, global spending on healthcare was US$ 7.8 trillion in 2017, or about 10% of GDP and $1,080 per capita. A WHO/UNICEF costing study concluded that with an additional US$1 billion per year, immunization could save 10 million more lives in a decade.

The world will continue to face outbreaks as a result of climate change and urbanization, international mass displacement and migration or accidental or deliberate release of a deadly engineered pathogen. Countries are ill positioned to combat them unless we act together.

There is lots to draw from including the 2016 United Kingdom’s global Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) that offered a blueprint of recommendations including investments to accelerate the development not just of a vaccine but also of therapeutic treatments and better diagnostics. In the absence of action AMR warned that by 2050 antibiotic-resistant microbes could take up to ten million lives per year, at a total cost of around $100 trillion in lost output between 2015 and 2050. AMR’s chair Jim O’Neill, who now chairs Chatham House,  says that the G20 will have “no excuse” if it fails to muster at least $10 billion for the immediate provision of COVID-19 diagnostics and treatments, and another $10 billion to kick-start the market for new antibiotics.

A final thought: total world military expenditure rose to $1.822 trillion in 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). As it’s increasingly likely to be microbes rather than missiles that get us, then more investment into healthcare, and especially into preparing for pandemics, seems prudent.



Previous primers go into more detail about the G20. For more on the Saudi plan for their presidency see their strategy document.

On the Coronavirus look at this educational scrolling infographic by SCMP and animated video by Kurzgesagt that explains how the virus works. Oxford University regularly updates its Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) across countries and time. Check out this real-time map from Johns Hopkins. See also the Financial Times real-time COVID-19 dashboardThe Visual Capitalist (a Canadian initiative) has some excellent pictorials on the Global Health Index, pandemics and ‘Black Swan’ events.




Canada, China and G20

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China can play key role in G20 virtual summit on COVID-19 crisis: former Canadian officials

0 Comment(s)Print E-mailXinhua, March 26, 2020
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by Christopher Guly

OTTAWA, March 25 (Xinhua) — An emergency meeting of G20 leaders is set to address the human and economic toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic, and China can play a key role in the discussions at the virtual gathering, according to two former Canadian officials.

“It doesn’t have to agree with everything on both the economic and security sides. But on health, everyone should be in the same league, and China has had the experience,” said Colin Robertson, who served as a Canadian consul in Hong Kong from 1987 to 1992.

He expressed the belief that China could play an important role in promoting the development of the vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 by sharing its experience on a digital platform that could be accessed by researchers around the world.

“China has the best petri dish, and could produce ventilators and masks for the public good,” explained Robertson, vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

He said the Group of 20, a global body created in 1999, should focus on healthcare and keeping supply chains for food, water and fuel moving, in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

“The G20 represents two-thirds of the world’s population and represents about 80 percent of global economic output — and these are the countries who should be leading the global effort,” said Robertson.

Perrin Beatty, a former Canadian cabinet minister who now serves as president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the special G20 meeting on COVID-19.

“This is an international issue,” he said in an interview. “This is a war where everyone in the world has a common enemy that’s invisible and deadly, and to be successful, we’re going to require international collaboration.”

Beatty said there is a lot to learn from China, which is ramping up its industrial capabilities as the country returns to work.

“We need supplies — and there are lessons from what they did and what they did wrong,” he said, referring to China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump and the Border

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As Trump muses about easing COVID-19 restrictions, all eyes are on the border

Any moves President Trump makes to lift restrictions likely to be blocked by state governments, diplomats say


Canada may face additional pressure to re-examine its pandemic response border agreement with the United States if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through on speculation that he might ease social distancing recommendations in the next week.

However, Ottawa likely will be able to avoid making difficult decisions about additional restrictions thanks to the work of governors who are enforcing robust measures in their individual states, two former diplomats say.

Dramatically different messages emerged from Ottawa and Washington on Monday, as the leaders of both countries attempt to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

In his most blunt public comments to date, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians today at his daily pandemic briefing that they must take to heart directives from public health officials to stay home and avoid gatherings.

“Enough is enough. Go home, and stay home,” Trudeau said. “This is what we all need to be doing.”

Trudeau: ‘Enough is enough. Go home and stay home.’

  • 3 days ago
  • 1:00

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says nothing that could help is ‘off the table,’ when it comes to enforcing self-isolation rules. 1:00

President Donald Trump seems to be leaning toward a different approach. He recently made the case for easing the social distancing guidelines his administration issued, which are to expire next week.

In a late Sunday night all-caps tweet, Trump wrote:


Donald J. Trump



135K people are talking about this

“The president is right,” Larry Kudlow, the White House economic adviser, told Fox News. “We can’t shut in the economy. The economic cost to individuals is just too great.”

Trump v. the experts

Trump is reportedly furious about the state of the economy — and is directing his anger at the public health officials who have made decisions that have hurt markets and killed jobs, ultimately making his re-election bid far more difficult.

His public musings about allowing social distancing restrictions to expire directly contradict warnings issued by members of his inner circle.

“I want America to understand this week it’s going to get bad, and we really need to come together as a nation,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NBC’s Today, hours after the president’s initial tweet.

“Everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now, and that means stay at home.”

If Trump gives Americans the all-clear to return to normal life at a time when public health officials are warning the pandemic is about to get worse, it may make some Canadians question whether allowing any travel between Canada and the U.S. is safe.

It’s almost like you have 50 states operating with 50 different sets of rules.– Ex-diplomat Bruce Heyman

On Friday, Trudeau and Trump separately announced that non-essential travel between the two countries would be temporarily banned for 30 days. Trade and commerce continues as usual.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said he thinks that border policy will still work, regardless of what the White House does — and it’s because of actions taken by individual governors.

“If Donald Trump says, ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ … he’s going to run into problems from states who will then exercise their authority,” he told CBC News.

“They are much more realistic about the problem — Democrats and Republicans alike.”

‘Please, God, stay home’

Governors in 13 different states have issued stay-at-home orders which collectively apply now to more than 100 million Americans.

“Please, God, stay home,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday.

Those not following social distancing regulations are “reckless,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s violative of your civic spirit and duty as a citizens as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

“It’s actually fallen to our governors to take a leadership role,” said Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama.

“It’s almost like you have 50 states operating with 50 different sets of rules because we don’t have the overall guidance coming out from the White House.”

Heyman said he thinks Trudeau may need to re-examine the border agreement if problems develop.

“It would surprise me that that would be needed, but the prime minister will have to respond to whatever he is confronted with,” he said.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation says the Canadian government is leaving nothing off the table in its pandemic policy. That line is consistent with what the prime minister has said publicly.

G20 Emergency Summit

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Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The coronavirus is putting multilateralism and its values through the ringer.

Typically, this would spark its defenders, chief among them the Group of 20 (G20) nations, an initiative born in 1999 from economic trouble after debt crises in places such as Mexico, Thailand, Brazil and Russia, and then given powerful purpose after another wave of economic trouble in the form of the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the G20 – representing about 80 per cent of global economic output and two-thirds of the world’s population – has effectively acted as the world’s management board, with its annual summits and communiques capping a year-long process of global governance.

The G20 is needed now more than ever – to muster collective action and secure supply chains for food, fuel, water, and direct health-care capacity (in collaboration with the World Health Organization) – and it is preparing to hold an extraordinary virtual summit meeting next week. Yet it is an open question as to whether or not it will be up to the enormous task ahead.

There are three areas that present the most immediate challenges. The first is health care. The world’s pandemic-preparedness systems have been revealed to be inadequate. We need a global approach to assessing needs and to producing masks and ventilators. And as highlighted by the fact that WHO inspectors were initially denied entry and information in China when the coronavirus first emerged, health monitors should be granted the same remit as election observers or nuclear inspectors, who travel and report without government interference.

The second is money. The International Monetary Fund has both a trust for catastrophic containment and relief, as well as a pandemic-financing facility, and both will need replenishing, as well as as new thinking on how to keep countries liquid. Public trust matters, as the 2008 financial crisis taught us: People must come first. Public money to business should be about bridging loans and equity, rather than bailouts. Governments that practice antagonistic “beggar thy neighbour” approaches in their economic recoveries should be sanctioned.

The third is transparency. A free media is critical for public trust. Misinformation breeds panic and incites racism. We need a code of conduct with watchdogs for traditional and social media.

The diversity of the G20 – north-south, east-west, authoritarians and democrats – reflects geopolitical realities, but it is also a weakness. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman currently holds the G20’s rotating chair, but he is fixated with dynastic succession, the price of oil and regional intrigue. Meanwhile, a European Union report says Russian agents are mounting a “significant disinformation campaign” to subvert Western and EU countries’ communications around the pandemic.

Having stemmed the virus using invasive surveillance and coercive quarantine, Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are now providing masks to Italy, and they have promised to reciprocate for EU assistance come springtime. But they are booting out U.S. journalists, forbidding them to work out of China, Hong Kong and Macau because of their so-called biased reporting on the Xinjiang internment camps, corruption within China’s senior cadres, the Hong Kong protest movement and the initial cover-up around the coronavirus.

In 2008, G20 leadership came from U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But this time, Donald Trump has resorted to an “America First” policy, expressed in reports that he sought exclusive rights to a potential vaccine made in Germany.

So it is unclear if the G20 can defend multilateralism in the face of all this. But if it cannot, we will need a new group of nations to take on the mantle. The leaders of the G20′s multilateral democracies – Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, European Council President Charles Michel and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen – could form the core of this new group. Singapore and Taiwan can offer lessons in reining in the coronavirus and SARS epidemics, even though Taiwan has been denied even observer status in the WHO because of China’s ridiculous demands.

Global governance is especially vital for displaced peoples who have been crowded into camps without hope of relief as borders close. Former Ontario premier Bob Rae’s work on behalf of the Rohingya helped galvanize a multilateral response, and Mr. Rae’s new assignment as special envoy on humanitarian and refugee issues is the kind of initiative the world needs from the multilateralists.

The global public needs to see that multilateralism works and that liberal democracies can act decisively while respecting liberty. Humanity will thank them for it.


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USMCA ratification brings stability to North American markets amid COVID-19 chaos

The Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says Canada’s ratification of the USMCA restores economic stability to North American during an uncertain time as the result of dropping oil prices and the implications of COVID-19.

16 March 2020, at 10:48am

On Friday, the House of Commons passed legislation to ratify the United States-Mexico Canada Agreement after which the Senate signed off on the bill. Speaking to Farmscape, Colin Robertson, the Vice President and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says ratification of the agreement by all three signatories brings much needed stability back to the North American trading platform.

“The uncertainty had basically frozen up investment by Canadians in Canada and certainly by foreign investment in Canada, as the Governor of the Bank of Canada had remarked,” says Robertson.

“A similar situation applied in Mexico as well so I think that it brings stability back to North America.

“The North American platform has everything going for it. We’ve got a young population, we’ve got a highly educated population, we’ve got a massive market of 500 million people with the United States, Mexico and Canada, we’ve got energy a plenty and we’ve been working together.

“The supply chain that we’ve established since the NAFTA came into effect in 1994 are working well and working better but what this agreement does is give the assurance to foreign investors and investors within North America that you can continue to do business with a set of rules which all have agreed to that includes dispute settlement.

“Now what we do is bring much needed stability back to the North American market at a time when, because of COVID-19 and the dropping price of oil, we really do need to bring stability back to North America.”

Robertson acknowledges each country still must go through the steps to confirm conditions for implementation have been met after which the USMCA will replace the current North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Evidence Senate Foreign Affiars and Trade Committee on CUSMA

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OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 3:30 p.m. to study the subject matter of Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.

Senator Leo Housakos (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Honourable colleagues, this is the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. My name is Leo Housakos. I am a senator from Quebec, and I’m the chair of the committeeThe committee has been asked by the Senate to do a pre-study of Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.This is the beginning of our hearings on the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement Implementation Act.

Colin Robertson, Vice-President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute: I encourage you to implement the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement. It is not free trade, but it is freer trade. It is not perfect, but it is much better than no deal.

CUSMA gives us a set of revised rules essential for growing and sustaining our vital continental commerce, roughly about 75% of our trade. Its dispute settlement provisions provide the stability necessary for business and investment decisions. It draws much from the original NAFTA with updates drawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in digital commerce, intellectual property, labour and the environment.

CUSMA caps a decade-long effort by federal and provincial governments representing different political parties to open doors to key markets across the Pacific, the Atlantic and, of course, to sustain North America.

As this committee observed in its 2017 report, free trade agreements are a tool for Canadian prosperity. Trade generates two thirds of Canada’s GDP, making us the twelfth largest export economy in the world.

The trade deals — CUSMA, CPTPP, CETA — are a tribute to our leadership in governments, business and labour. They prove that we can make common cause on issues of national importance. Trade diversification is necessary, but for Canada, when it comes to trade and security, it will always be the United States and then the rest.

Now we need to make our trade deals work for us.

First, there is unfinished business when it comes to regulation, infrastructure and internal trade.

Initiatives launched by the Harper and Obama governments and continued by the Trudeau and Trump governments around regulatory cooperation and beyond-the-border action plans are buried within our bureaucracies. Progress requires political oversight. I encourage this committee to hold hearings to identify the roadblocks and keep governments’ noses to the grindstone.

U.S. Democrats and the Trump administration have agreed to a US$2-trillion infrastructure plan, although there is no agreement on how to pay for it. Since there is no procurement provision in the new trade agreement, Canada needs to link into this initiative. To get the best value for our citizens, premiers and governors need to work out the kind of reciprocity deal that the U.S. and Canada achieved in 2010. Again, it was the premiers.

Getting our goods to market means improvements to our ports, pipelines and grids, rail and roads. Canada has an infrastructure program, but is it moving fast enough? This should be an area of close collaboration with all levels of government. Again, parliamentary oversight of the process and progress is essential.

Free trade within Canada remains the unfinished business of Confederation and I applaud and underline the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee for Banking, Trade and Commerce in its 2016 report, Tear Down These Walls.

Second, the all-Canada effort to remind Americans that our trade partnership is mutually beneficial must become a permanent campaign. American protectionism is older than the republic. It will continue no matter who is president.

While we can’t vote or make donations to campaigns, we can illustrate by district and state the jobs created by Canadian trade and investment. I encourage you to use your travel authority to go to Washington and meet your counterparts. I also encourage you to adjust the rules so you can travel throughout the United States.

This must be a permanent campaign encompassing all sectors, including our cultural industries. I applaud this committee’s recent report on making cultural diplomacy the main stage of Canadian foreign policy, and I would say that it starts with our North American market.

Third, we need to know more about North America, especially the United States.

Given our propinquity and innate understanding of the United States, why aren’t we turning this to our advantage? How many serious centres or research chairs focusing on the U.S. and our continental trade are there in Canada? You will be very disappointed in the answer.

Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a large extent by our understanding of the United States. By using our knowledge and relationships with Americans, our ability to leverage our influence in Washington and state capitals makes us a more desirable partner with the rest of the world. They also have to do business with our often complicated and sometimes confusing neighbour.

In conclusion, I encourage you to pass CUSMA while taking initiatives that will grow our commerce.

Senator Massicotte: Mr. Robertson, as you know, in negotiations they tried hard to improve the Buy American Act and all the infrastructure investments, but they got nowhere, and therefore they’re relying somewhat on WTO. What are your comments on that? Is there a way to get there? Because this is a big piece and a big number.

Mr. Robertson: Yes, I believe there is. Inevitably premiers and governors who have to administer the budget when it comes to infrastructure want to get the best value. One thing they also want to avoid is cartels within their state. So by opening it up to other vendors, you don’t necessarily take them, but perhaps it helps keep local vendors more disciplined. I referred to the 2010 reciprocity agreement on procurement.

At the federal level, we weren’t making much progress. It was something we knew. President Obama had put half a trillion dollars into infrastructure to restart the economy after the 2008 recession and we wanted a piece of it. This is how it turned out: Premier Wall came down with seven of the premiers to a conference of national governors in February 2010 in Washington and sat down. They said, “Look, we’ll open up our market if you open up your market, for the reasons I outlined.”

And it worked. We got this multi-page agreement. There were some exceptions and things, but at least it got us in the door.

I’m afraid that, with the pressure the U.S. is putting on the government procurement agreement negotiated in the WTO, we’ll have to resort to the relationships we have, and we are better placed than any country in the world to do that.

I talked about the relationships that you too can forge; many of you have. That’s going to be important, because more than any country in the world, Americans like us. We’ve got an advantage. We don’t like them as much as they like us, but we should take this as our advantage.

So I would say that we can achieve this, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the traditional trade policy route.

Senator Dawson: We had also said that, under the expectations, the Americans expected us to pass it quickly. That was many months ago. We promised them; we said, “Send it back to us, and we’ll pass it quickly.” So I don’t know how long we can continue working on the wording, but I certainly feel you’re right that we need to have some comments and give some direction to the government. But I certainly wouldn’t want to delay it that much.

Mr. Robertson, you were accused of using “weasel words” in the other place, so maybe you want to defend yourself as a parliamentary privilege.

Mr. Robertson: I thought what I said was clear, but I’ll just say that there is sometimes a temptation to look at trade agreements like a Christmas tree and put all sorts of things on them. I’ll just say that, with regard to data, there are other places where that is being discussed.

If it needs the time Dan says it does, I’m not sure this is the agreement. For that same reason, the environment is there and good, but we’ve got climate agreements, and we’ve gotten labour through the ILO. There are other fora where these things should be considered.

Never forget that we went into this thing with Mr. Trump saying that it was the worst deal ever negotiated, and his commerce secretary telling us that this was about Mexico and Canada giving and the U.S. getting. I think we’ve come out of this extremely well. It is our biggest market. It’s not perfect; it can doubtless be improved, but we can do an awful lot of this stuff under the existing agreement.

I’m not as fussed as some that there is a sunset clause, because there is a sunset clause in every agreement, effectively. You can dump these things off with six months’ notice, anyway. It is important, as with NAFTA, that you keep the thing evergreen. When we negotiated NAFTA, we didn’t travel with these things in our pockets. We weren’t thinking about big data, Google and Facebook. They weren’t around.

So this agreement is as good as it gets under the circumstances. We can make improvements, but let’s make improvements with it in place.


Senator MacDonald: I’ll direct my question first to Mr. Ciuriak, but I’d like the others to feel free to join in afterward.

I have two studies here, one from the C.D. Howe Institute and one from Global Affairs Canada. There are some discrepancies between these two studies.

I want to speak to U.S. section 232, national security tariffs. The C.D. Howe Institute states:

. . . the failure of the new agreement to eliminate the application of US section 232 national security tariffs on imports from its North American partners signals future risk concerning assured access to the US market.

The CUSMA does not prevent the future application of Section 232 tariffs, which have been revived by the Trump administration for ad hoc protectionist purposes . . . U.S. forbearance in applying section 232 tariffs to Canada and Mexico on autos, should those measures be adopted, is only incorporated through a side letter.

On the other hand, Global Affairs seems to say the opposite, that Canada has secured an exemption for many future U.S. section 232 tariffs on automobiles and auto parts.

Did we secure a legal exemption or not? If we did, does it hinge on the way according to a side letter in the 60-day exemption?

Mr. Robertson: A lot of it comes down to interpretation. You have seen the official Canadian government interpretation that this gives us an exemption. That is the word we will take to our American counterparts, and we will have to continue to do that. Part of the reason that the steel and aluminum tariffs were lifted was because of the pressure that came from within the United States. It wasn’t Canadian pressure, although I think we helped make it possible by reminding all of the people who use Canadian aluminum — and they are in the hundreds of thousands. The actual number of steel and aluminum makers is maybe like 42,000, but there are hundreds of thousands who use our products. They were the ones who put pressure on their state legislators, their congressional delegates and on the administration to say, “Lift this, because it is doing measurable harm.”

The interpretation I would put forward would be the one that Global Affairs has taken, but it will be important for us to continue that permanent campaign to remind Americans of what they did. While Americans are extremely litigious, they also like to think they follow the letter of the law. If we put our interpretation of the letter of the law out, which is contained in the Global Affairs study, I think that will go some distance. I would just like to underline to you that when you deal with the United States, nothing is ever permanent. You have to be down there all the time reminding them of your interests. It is political.

Senator MacDonald: This question will again be for all three of you. It refers to article 32.10 of CUSMA, which requires the three parties to give three months’ notice to the other two countries before it begins negotiating a free trade deal with any non-market country. This provision has been described as unprecedented in that it requires any party to inform the other parties of the intention to convince any free trade negotiations with a non-market country at least three months before starting such negotiations.

I have a couple of quotes here from international trade law specialists. One is Clifford Sosnow, a Canadian international trade law specialist who said:

The measure sets up a level of closeness and consultation that one sovereign country typically doesn’t have with another sovereign country prior to reaching a trade deal with another country.

He added that:

It is quite remarkable.

Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington has further stated:

I know Chrystia Freeland says it’s not a restraint on Canada but we’ve never seen a provision like this, which holds out the threat of divorce if the U.S. doesn’t like the terms of an agreement.

Regarding that provision, Hufbauer also said that:

It puts a cloud over the ability of Mexico and Canada to negotiate with China and other ‘non-market countries.’

I guess I want to ask you two questions. Have you ever seen a provision like this in an international trade agreement? Is it not unusual that the Americans would, in essence, be informed about the content of Canadian trade objectives and in the negotiation with a non-market economy before the Canadian Parliament would be informed?

Mr. Robertson: I would concur with Larry. I am not fussed by it. I saw it, and I know some people are troubled by it. I think it was much less about Canada and Mexico than it was about internal politics in the United States and the Trump administration wanting to demonstrate to their base that they could do this. So I think, for the reasons Larry has outlined and as I have discussed with Gary Hufbauer, that, for the practical effect on Canada, the question is — and you can be Clintonesque here in semantics — when do you actually start an agreement? Some could argue that Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau had, in fact, already started to improve the economic relations with China. But as we know, they are in the deep-freeze for now, so I just don’t think it will have practical effect. It’s much more likely that the United States will have to be consulting us and Mexico as they move toward some kind of a closer agreement with China, which is certainly not what Mr. Trump had in mind when he insisted Mr. Lighthizer put this in the agreement.

enator Dean: Supply management was a major issue going into these talks, and it was a major and highly public expectation of U.S. negotiators to the highest level. We know what came out of it: some limited access to some limited products with a phase-in period.

I wonder if you have any reactions about where we started with this, what the expectations of U.S. counterparts were and where this ended up.

Mr. Robertson: Mine is perhaps not a conventional view on supply management. My view is we look at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Just as we compete extraordinarily well with agri-food, meat and pork or our grains, for example — and I think we could do the same with dairy — for whatever reason, we have decided to adopt a highly protectionist approach to what I think could be a great export for Canada. The better model for us would be New Zealand and Australia, which also had a kind of constrained market with high tariff walls. New Zealand now provides something like almost a third of that which is exported throughout Asia. There is big demand for protein in Asia now. It will grow. I think we could be a piece of this, but we have constrained ourselves.

Anybody who eats our cheese — I used to serve our artisanal cheeses from Quebec when I was on posting — would say, “Give us more of it. We simply can’t get it.” I think we should look at this as a way of 15 years ago or 20 years ago, as we opened up the grain market, at one point we had some constraints on our beef and pork. We compete extraordinarily well.

With dairy, for whatever reason, we have chosen not to. We have protected it. We protected it again. We have opened the market up, but still 90% of that market is highly protected for the 5,000 or 6,000 dairy farmers across Canada. It means we pay higher prices as consumers, and I think it also constrains an industry that could do very well, but there are some additional constraints in this with the Americans so that we will not be competing.

My view on this is not conventional. I think in terms of the negotiation tactics, the government did extremely well. They did what they said they were going to do. They managed to save it with very little opening to the United States. A couple of percentage points is what we basically gave through CETA and through the TPP as well.

enator MacDonald: I have a quick question about what Senator Dean was asking. I share a lot of people’s thoughts about supply management in principle. I’m not a big fan of it.

However, I always said I agree with it in practice when it came to the U.S. because the U.S. subsidizes their agriculture in a way that we do not, to tens of billions of dollars a year. Were you familiar with any effort of the Canadian government where they put U.S. subsidies of agriculture on the table? Or did we ask them to put them on the table as a counter to what they were asking us to do?

Mr. Robertson: I can certainly tell you, when we did the Canada-U.S. agreement and the NAFTA, we made a list of U.S. subsidies, and you’re absolutely correct. The agricultural subsidies in the United States make us look like pikers. I do not know for sure, but I would think that we would have done that kind of homework again as we went into this agreement because we weren’t sure where the Americans were coming from.

Senator MacDonald: They have an oversupply problem. Wisconsin produces almost the same amount of dairy as Canada does.

Mr. Robertson: Part of the reason this was a big deal is because not only was Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer from New York pushing this one, but the then-Speaker at the time, Paul Ryan, was a Wisconsin cheese farmer.


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The NAFTA replacement isn’t perfect , but it’s good enough. Ottawa should pass it

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail February 24, 2020


The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is not perfect. It is freer trade, not free trade, but Parliament needs to pass it and get on with making it work. Trade agreements are like riding a bicycle: Keep cycling and when you hit bumps make adjustments. But keep cycling.

Consider where we started. U.S. President Donald Trump damned it as the “worst trade deal ever.” For U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, it was for Mexico and Canada to give and the United States to get.

The Trump administration thought it had us over a barrel because of Mexico and Canada’s dependence on the U.S. market. While we each buy about 18 per cent of U.S. exports, the U.S. takes 75 per cent of Canada’s exports (and it’s even higher for Mexico).

Despite these challenges, we did well. We kept dispute settlement, drowned investor-state and preserved our sacred cows (supply management and the cultural exemption). Labour and the environment are integral parts of the agreement, intellectual property is updated, and digital trade is recognized. The unjust steel and aluminum tariffs are gone. The auto pact has become managed trade, but as with softwood lumber, we will cope.

While Mr. Trump would never acknowledge it, the new deal drew much of what is old from the previous North American free-trade agreement and much of what is new from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another of his bugbears.

Thanks to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats, a clause was removed from the agreement that would have extended protection (and costs) for biologic drug companies. This could lead to cheaper drug prices. Labour and environmental enforcement provisions are strengthened. The strong bipartisan congressional support for the deal may just exorcise the phobia around trade that dogged NAFTA. When surveyed, Americans generally endorse free trade over tariffs.

USMCA joins the transatlantic and transpacific agreements in giving us preferred access to those economies most committed to freer trade. These deals span the Harper and Trudeau governments. It’s a tribute to their leadership as well as those of our premiers and legislators, business and labour. Despite our current distemper, the trade deals prove that our leaders can make common cause on issues of national importance.

Trade generates two-thirds of Canada’s GDP. It makes us the 12th-largest export economy in the world. Now we need to consolidate our gains.

First, there is unfinished business when it comes to regulation and infrastructure.

Initiatives launched by the Harper and Obama governments around regulatory co-operation and Beyond the Border action plans are buried within our bureaucracies. Progress requires political oversight: legislative hearings to identify the roadblocks and keeping governments’ nose to the grindstone.

Getting our goods to market means improvements to our ports, pipelines and grids, rail and roads. This requires close collaboration between all levels of government. U.S. Democrats and the Trump administration have agreed to a US$2-trillion infrastructure plan (although there is no agreement on how to pay for it). Since there is no procurement provision in the new trade agreement, Canada needs to link into this initiative. To get best value for our citizens, premiers and governors need to work out the kind of reciprocity deal that the U.S. and Canada achieved in 2010.

Second, the all-Canada effort reminding Americans that our trade partnership is mutually beneficial must become a permanent campaign. American protectionism is older than the republic. It will continue no matter who is president.

While we can’t vote or make donations to campaigns, we can illustrate by district and by state the jobs created by Canadian trade and investment.

If we think we know everything about the U.S., we are wrong. How many serious centres for the study of U.S. issues do we have here in Canada? How many Canada research chairs focus on the United States and our trade? Not nearly enough.

Trade diversification is necessary for Canada, but when it comes to trade and security, it will always be the U.S. and then the rest. Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a large extent by our understanding of our southern neighbour.

By using our knowledge and relationships with Americans, we can leverage influence in Washington and state capitals. This also makes us a more desirable partner to the rest of the world. They expect and look to Canada for advice on how to handle our complicated, often challenging, neighbour.

Given the circumstances, USMCA is a good deal for Canada. Not perfect, but it secures access to our largest market. Parliament needs to move on its implementation and make the investments that will realize its potential.

Committee on International Trade CUSMA Testimony

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The Chair (Hon. Judy A. Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek, Lib.)):

I’m calling the meeting to order, pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, February 6, 2020, Bill C-4, an act to implement the agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.

Mr. Colin Robertson (Vice-President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute):


Chair, my remarks draw from my previous experience as a foreign service officer serving on the team that negotiated the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA, on my postings in New York, as consul general in Los Angeles, as first head of the advocacy secretariat at our Washington embassy and, more recently, as a member of the trade advisory committee to the deputy minister of international trade.

I encourage members to pass the legislation implementing the Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement. Trade agreements are like riding a bicycle: Keep cycling and when you hit bumps make adjustments as necessary, but keep cycling. CUSMA is the best possible agreement under the circumstances. It’s not perfect, but for Canada it both preserves access to our largest market and preserves the North American platform incorporating Mexico.

The Canada-Mexico story gets scant attention but it’s the hidden treasure of the NAFTA story. Mexico is now our third-largest trading partner and, as we witnessed, a valuable partner and ally in recent trade negotiations with the Trump administration with not just the new NAFTA, but in reversing U.S. protectionism through country of origin labelling.

The new agreement is not perfect. lt is freer trade not free trade, but consider where we started. President Trump claimed it was the worst deal ever negotiated. Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said it was for Mexico and Canada to give, and the United States to get. The Trump administration thought they had us over a barrel because we, Mexico and Canada, were much more dependent on the U.S. than they were on us. We each account for close to 18% of U.S. exports, while for us the U.S. takes almost 75% of our exports. For Mexico, it’s about 80%.

Trade generates two-thirds of our GDP, making us the 12th-largest export economy in the world. For the U.S., trade represents just 27% of its GDP. Mr. Trump well understood these asymmetries.

Despite these disadvantages, we updated the NAFTA with new chapters on digital trade, intellectual property, labour and the environment while keeping dispute settlement and supply management. At the same time we managed to drown investor-state provisions. The unjust steel and aluminum tariffs are gone. Our auto trade is managed trade. It’s a bit like that of softwood lumber, but we should be able to manage this to support jobs and more investment.

Thanks to the Democrats in the House of Representatives, our gives on patent protection for biologic drugs that would have raised health care costs for provinces were rolled back. The Democrats also secured better enforcement on environmental and labour provisions, all of which we had sought in the negotiations.

ln short, we have a high-quality North American trade agreement, something we sought to obtain through the trans Pacific partnership. lnstead, we now have an up-to-date Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement with the advantage over the U.S. in trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic markets through CPTPP and CETA.

This leads me to my recommendations. First, CUSMA is the result of an all-of-Canada effort involving the Prime Minister, ministers, premiers, parliamentarians and legislators, business and labour leaders all working with their American counterparts with complementary messages and purpose. This work must continue and become a permanent campaign. American protectionism is older than the republic, and it will continue no matter who is president. We need trade diversification, yes, but we cannot change geography. That geography gives us access to the biggest and most innovative market in the world.

Working Capitol Hill daily from my embassy, and through my experience at my consulates, I learned that just as all politics is local so is all trade. While we can’t make donations to campaigns, we can illustrate the jobs that Canadian trade and investment create by district and by state. We need to keep this data current. Importantly, you as parliamentarians need to keep reminding Americans of these facts, and do this through regular meetings with U.S. legislators—local, state and federal.

There are lots of opportunities, and not just the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group but regional conferences of state and national legislators, important forums like PNWER and NASCO, as well as the sectoral industry and farm group meetings. First, you need to be there to develop relationships and to make the case for Canada. Use your travel points to go to Washington, and I encourage you to adjust the rules for travel throughout the United States. As you will appreciate, nothing is better than a meeting on your home turf.

Second, with the trade agreement in place there is still unfinished business when it comes to regulation and infrastructure. The thicket of national, provincial and local regulations and standards needs to be harmonized or made complementary. CUSMA helps, but we’re also working on, through separate initiatives launched by the Harper government and Obama administration, regulatory co-operation and beyond the border. These have been continued by the Trudeau government and the Trump administration. They continue, but after the initial burst of enthusiasm, I’m afraid they’re now buried within our bureaucracies. Progress requires political oversight by this committee, including hearings to identify the roadblocks, raise consciousness and keep government noses to the grindstone. Your constituents will thank you.


People and trade pass through our border points, as well as roads, rail, hydro and pipelines, bridges and tunnels, airports and rail stations. They need improvement. Too often they are choke points that hamper passage and productivity. Canada has an infrastructure program, but is it moving fast enough? This should be an area of close collaboration by all levels of government. Again, parliamentary oversight of the progress is essential. The U.S. administration and Congress are already talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program. We need to ensure it is complementary to our efforts, and because procurement is not part of CUSMA, leave it to governors and premiers to work out a procurement agreement as we did in 2010.

Harvard’s Belfer Center points out that North America is the next great emerging market, possessing abundant energy, a skilled workforce, technology and a big market. However, we need infrastructure.

Meanwhile, we enjoy first-mover advantage of the U.S. with the European Union and CPTPP nations, but only if we seize these opportunities. Our competitiveness depends on our ability to get goods quickly to market, whether in North America or across our oceans.

Third, we need to know more about North America, especially the United States. Diversification is a laudable goal, but for Canada, when it comes to trade and security, it will always be the United States and then the rest. Anyone in business will tell you market intelligence is essential, whether you are buying or selling. For example, how many of you can tell your constituents how many of their jobs depend on U.S. investment and trade? We can do it for the U.S., and the Business Council of Canada has created an interactive map that can pinpoint jobs by congressional district and state. Why don’t we have one for Canadian constituencies, and why not include TPP and CETA? People understand why trade matters to them.

Given our propinquity and innate understanding of the United States, why aren’t we turning this to our advantage? How many serious centres for the study of the U.S. are there in Canada? How many Canada research chairs focus on the United States and our trade? You will be disappointed in the answer.

I encourage you as parliamentarians to pass CUSMA. I encourage you to press for investments that serve our national interest.

In conclusion, we always need to keep in mind that Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a large extent by our understanding of the United States. By using our knowledge and relationships with Americans, our ability to leverage our influence in Washington and state capitals makes us a more desirable partner with the rest of the world, because they also have to do business with our often-complicated neighbour.

Hon. Ed Fast:

I’m going to go to Mr. Robertson.

Welcome, Colin. You and I have known each other for a long time. You made a curious statement. You said that this was the best agreement under the circumstances.

“Under the circumstances” sound like weasel words. Essentially, we didn’t get a better deal. We didn’t get a win-win. We got the best we could under a Donald Trump. Is that what you were implying with those words?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

Yes, sir.


Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal:

Thank you.

My next question is for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. It is my understanding that you had a conference to discuss aspects of CUSMA with a range of experts, diplomats and consultants.


Mr. Colin Robertson:

Yes, we have an annual trade conference in Ottawa.


Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal:

What were the key messages from that conference about this deal?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

The conference was held while the negotiations were still taking place. We’ve had two, and in each case we discussed various aspects of the agreement and what Canada should be seeking. We had participation from the current trade team, including people such as Steve Verheul.


Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal:

Are you satisfied that most of those discussions are implemented in this agreement?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

Yes, sir. Trade negotiations are a give-and-take. Again, as I was saying in response to Mr. Fast, the circumstances were that the United States came in, and as Mr. Ross, the commerce secretary, put it quite succinctly, it was for Canada and Mexico to give and the United States to get. I think we did extremely well under the circumstances. We preserved that access to the U.S. market, which is vital, as has been pointed out by other witnesses, and we were able to add new chapters on labour and the environment.

It’s not a perfect agreement. I would just also point out that we shouldn’t expect a trade agreement to be the be-all and end-all for anything. We have, after all, the Paris climate accords, which I think are the appropriate vehicle to deal with climate. We have the International Labour Organization measures, which we abide by. Trade agreements should not be seen as the catch-all for everything, because then they sink.


Mr. Daniel Blaikie:

Thank you very much.


Mr. Robertson, I wanted to touch a bit more on the buy America provisions and the importance of procurement. You mentioned some of the ways in which Canada might consider trying to make up for what’s not in this agreement in terms of access to procurement.

I have New Flyer Industries in my riding, which produces a lot of buses and sells most of them into the United States. Buy America has affected jobs in Winnipeg because of the content requirements.

I was surprised recently when there was a meeting of governors and Canadian premiers, and Premier Pallister from Manitoba didn’t go and didn’t send anybody on his behalf. It seems to me that the province-to-state relationship is going to be important for businesses that export to the U.S. in terms of keeping jobs here in Canada. Could you speak to that a bit more?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

I think you’re correct. Premiers and governors, because they’re the level where the spending usually takes place, particularly when it comes to major infrastructure, want best value, and best value often comes from having a variety of vendors, not just those in your state or province. Having outside competition that has equal access will often prevent cartels in your own province or state, and, therefore, you get far better value for public money.

This was really the philosophy that was behind…. When I was at the embassy, we were trying to get a procurement agreement at the national level. It wasn’t working. We since have one through the World Trade Organization, but when the United States under the Obama administration was doing their big build as part of the post-recession effort to recover, we wanted access, as you put it, for New Flyer and others so we could sell buses and things into the United States.

We found that the best way to do it was by having premiers go down and meet with governors. Both saw an advantage. Both of them were charged with spending monies that came from federal governments, so they worked out a deal in 2010.


  1. Rachel Bendayan:



My next question is for Mr. Robertson from the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Thank you very much for your testimony earlier. To follow up on a question from my colleague the Honourable Ed Fast with respect to your statement, which I believe was that this is the best agreement possible under the circumstances, would you, having reviewed the agreement in its entirety, agree that it is a better agreement overall for Canada than the original NAFTA was?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

I think, grosso modo, it updates the original NAFTA, which was absolutely necessary. There are parts of it that are managed trade—and we talked about autos. There are pieces we would have liked, such as the procurement chapter, for example, but it wasn’t going to work. However, given the circumstances, it is the best possible agreement we could have negotiated, and we are much further ahead with it because it’s a kind of crown jewel. We have the CETA and the CPTPP, but the critical agreement for us is always having access to the United States. Now we have that security, under a very difficult and sometimes complicated administration.


Ms. Rachel Bendayan:

Thank you very much for that very political answer.

You mentioned the lack of statistics or estimates of the number of jobs in Canada that rely on trade with the United States, but there are some statistics. I’m thinking particularly of the percentage of our country’s exports that go to the United States. I wonder if you could speak to that.



Mr. Colin Robertson:

We do have statistics but we need…and you as members of Parliament, when you speak to your constituents, should be able to say, “Look, your jobs….” Again, we hear from Meadow Lake and we know the importance of trade, but people want to know specifically what it means. We can do this now down to the legislative and really the constituency level in the United States. We have the capacity to do it in Canada, and I think we should, because all members of Parliament should have access to those figures. I would include in those the importance of the European and Asian markets, because, I’d point out, we’re the 12th-largest exporting country.


Most people don’t realize how important trade is to our prosperity. That’s what pays for our health care and education. You as members of Parliament could be better equipped if you could get the statistics and make them available. They are readily available because we have the tools to do that with other countries.


Mr. Vance Badawey (Niagara Centre, Lib.):

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I appreciate the opportunity to sit on this committee today. As many know, I chair the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The reason I’m here today is the crossover that this issue and all the trade issues have for both committees. It’s a pleasure to be here and to bring forward some thoughts on behalf of that committee.

First off, Madam Chair, I want to preface my comments by stating that I do anticipate the passing of CUSMA, which will in fact align with CETA and, of course, the CPTPP. That’s what I’m going to premise my comments on today with the witnesses we have before us.

There was a mention earlier by Mr. Robertson of the trillion-dollar procurement program that we must embark on. In fact, if Canada wants to and needs to invest in strategic infrastructure investments to strengthen our overall international trade performance, it’s imminent that we begin to work with our different committees here in Parliament, but more importantly with our partners, both in the public sector—municipal in particular—and in the private sector.

I will be bringing forward today to committee a few motions that will align with some of that direction, including a study focusing on current and anticipated labour shortages throughout the country, in particular as it relates to the transportation sector; undertaking a study on Canada’s rural digital infrastructure and prospective solutions to the gaps in wireless infrastructure deployment throughout rural Canada; looking at the gas tax; and, of course, once again, the need to work with our municipal and private sector partners, as well as our indigenous communities, to put in place strategic investments that align with our trade agreements such as CUSMA, CETA and the CPTPP.

I want to ask a question that is primarily for Mr. Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

With respect to your comment on the trillion-dollar procurement program, I’ll throw a question out there for you. I’m going to stop talking and allow you to comment on what I’ve just talked about and the importance of same. How important is it for Canada, as a nation, to work binationally in establishing our procurement and, of course, the strategic infrastructure investments that will align with and complement the trade agreements we have in place?


Mr. Colin Robertson:

I think it’s vitally important. When we export, we don’t know which port it’s going to go to. Sometimes from Saskatchewan it goes through the United States and out through Portland and Seattle, whereas American goods sometimes will come up to Canada. Integrating those, that infrastructure, as I said in my remarks, is vital, especially as the United States appears to be, probably in the next administration—whether Democrat or Republican and working with Congress—prepared to put in really big money. I mentioned trillions of dollars. In fact, it could come to a couple of trillion dollars.

We need to be a piece of that, both in the access to it in terms of procurement but also in linking up rail, road and air. Again, it’s that North American capacity we have to become the truly competitive platform for the world. We now have the pieces in place, but we need the infrastructure. I would applaud what you and your committee are doing and your suggestions on how we can move forward, and I encourage you to talk with your American counterparts, because what really will make this happen is legislator talking to legislator.

Mr. Vance Badawey:

If I may, Madam Chair, I think that discussion has to continue, not only across standing committees here in Parliament but also across borders. Once again, I would be very interested to hear, in moving the yardsticks down the field to get ourselves to that goal line, what thoughts you and many witnesses have on those issues and also on what those strategic investments should be.

I’ll ask a question. With respect to, as you mentioned, rail, road, air and water, of course in my riding in Niagara we have the Great Lakes, which are binational. With the trade that’s going to be coming in from and out of the Midwest—a lot of it—especially in regard to going over to the EU and other diversified areas versus just the United States, we’re recognizing that the Great Lakes, and of course the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal, will be used a lot.

What investments do you see with respect to binational investments, infrastructure investments among the rail, the water, the air and the roads, between both Canada and the U.S., as well as internationally?

The Chair:

I’m sorry, but I have to interrupt.

Mr. Robertson, could you give us a short answer? My apologies, but just a short answer, please, because you have 20 seconds remaining.

Mr. Colin Robertson:

Okay. I’ll just say that NASCO, which is tri-country, has come up with a whole series of excellent recommendations, which I would refer to your committee.