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About Colin Robertson

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 »

Parliament and Trade Scrutiny

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Feds have yet to make agreed-upon changes giving Parliament greater oversight over trade deals

By NEIL MOSS      
Though still not made official, the government says it will comply with new trade policy provisions, including in trade talks with the United Kingdom, which began before the guidelines were agreed to in February.
A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, pictured, says ‘preparations for negotiation of any new agreement with the U.K. would be in accordance with recent commitments to inform Parliament ahead of their launch.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Despite saying it would abide by agreed-upon provisions to give Parliamentarians more oversight on trade deals, the Liberal government has yet to amend its official policy on tabling trade bills in Parliament.

Those provisions include tabling notice of the government’s intent to enter into free trade negotiations in the House of Commons 90 days before those talks begin; tabling its objectives for those negotiations 30 days prior to their start; and tabling an economic impact assessment of the trade deal at the same time a implementation bill is introduced in the House for a new trade pact. The government’s notice of intent and objectives would be referred to the House Committee on International Trade after they are tabled.

The new provisions were agreed to between the Liberals and the NDP in February, with the government agreeing in order to cement NDP support for its effort to accelerate the House International Trade Committee’s study of the implementation bill for the new NAFTA. At the time, Canada was the lone country of the pact not to have implemented the trade bill.

That agreement, which was confirmed in a Feb. 19 letter from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) to NDP MP Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona, Man.), his party’s international trade critic, noted the government “will revise” the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament. Five months later, it has yet to do so.

The new framework is intended to give Parliamentarians move oversight over trade negotiations, which are controlled by the executive.

A Global Affairs spokesperson confirmed with The Hill Times that the changes to the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament have yet to be made, citing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This change will soon be implemented and will apply to all future trade agreements,” Sylvain Leclerc said in a statement.

The government has promised to comply with the provisions in future trade negotiations with the United Kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reached a deal with the NDP on the new trade oversight provisions to accelerate the passage of the new NAFTA implementation bill. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Canada has already begun preliminary talks with the U.K. government for a potential new trade deal, but have not begun formal negotiations.

To date, no notice of intent, objectives, or economic impact assessment for a U.K. trade deal have been tabled.

Ryan Nearing, a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), said “preparations for negotiation of any new agreement with the U.K. would be in accordance with recent commitments to inform Parliament ahead of their launch.”

Canada’s top trade negotiating official, Steve Verheul, said during a July 9 meeting of the House Committee on International Trade that an agreement between Canada and the U.K. was “very close … early last year” before the U.K. released its plans for “most favoured nation” tariffs in May, which eliminates tariffs on about half of the exports to the United Kingdom.

Some trade experts said it is better for Canada to wait to see how Britain’s policy on tariffs evolves before agreeing to a free trade deal, which they expect will involve Canada having to make concessions.

Canada and U.K. trade is currently covered under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), but the U.K. will no longer be party to the pact after the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year.

Asked by Conservative MP Michael Kram (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) about when the 90-day notification for Canada-U.K. trade negotiations would be tabled, Mr. Verhuel said the government will “clearly abide by the commitments made under that understanding [between the Liberals and NDP].”

“We’ll move forward on that basis,” he said, adding that, when it comes to the provision for tabling the objectives of the negotiations, the government’s objectives are already “very clear,” but have yet not been “set out in a formal document as of yet, but that is something that could be clearly be done very quickly.”

Asked by The Hill Times what those objectives are, Global Affairs did not answer, referring to Mr. Nearing’s response.

Mr. Nearing said Canada and the U.K. continue to work together “to build on our strong trading relationship to grow our economies and benefit our people.”

“Over the past few years in preparation for Brexit, our government has actively worked with U.K. ministers and government officials to ensure a solid path forward to our two countries. Continuing our trade relationship with the U.K. remains a key priority for our government so that we preserve critical market access for Canadian businesses, producers, and exporters,” he said.

Canada is also in the midst of trade talks with Mercosur members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and Pacific Alliance nations (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru).

Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.), his party’s international trade critic, said he is skeptical that the Liberals will table a notice of intent to enter into formal negotiations with the United Kingdom.

“They should be honouring their agreement with the NDP, but I am not expecting them to honour it,” he said. “If they haven’t given us notice now, what makes you think they ever will give us notice?”

“Unless its embedded in legislation they can just ignore it, and it looks like that’s exactly what they are going to do,” Mr. Hoback said.

Trade official Steve Verheul said the government will comply with ‘recent commitments to inform Parliament’ before the start of trade negotiations with the United Kingdom. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

He said if the government does intend to provide notice, timing now means it likely won’t be entering into negotiations until 2021, a year after many other countries have started trade talks with the U.K.

“Instead of staying active in proceeding with negotiations when they first started and to keep those talks moving forward, now we’re at the bottom of the list and we’re waiting and waiting for everybody else to be completed before the U.K. has capacity to deal with us,” Mr Hoback said. “That’s disappointing”

He added that when the government tables its objectives, it should include which sectors are going to gain market access, as well as an assurance that the government is going to protect supply management.

Bloc Québécois MP Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay (Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, Que.), his party’s international trade critic, questioned whether the new provisions will be “fully useful.”

“Because, if the negotiations [with Britain have] started, how come we know so little about it and how come the Parliament—as during the new NAFTA—will surely be called to rubber-stamp the deal and not to study it and to modify it,” Mr. Savard-Tremblay said.

More parliamentary transparency for trade deals needed, says Bloc MP

After experiencing the way the government pushed the new NAFTA implementation bill through Parliament and the International Trade Committee, Mr. Savard-Tremblay told The Hill Times he thinks there should be a larger role for Parliamentarians in the trade negotiation process.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback says he doesn’t expect the Liberals to honour the guidelines agreed to with the NDP. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

He said, unlike U.S. lawmakers, Canadian Parliamentarians weren’t given any ability to influence the final new NAFTA.

“We are elected by the people. We have democratic legitimacy. We should have something to say,” Mr. Savard-Tremblay said.

He said both Parliamentarians and the provinces should be more involved in trade talks, adding that jurisdictional control can be modified. He said that there should be “a lot more consultation” with MPs, civil society, and business groups before Parliamentarians are asked to approve a trade deal.

Former trade negotiator Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the new provisions will bring Canada closer in line with the United States.

“It’s very much mirrored after what the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] has to do with Congress,” Mr. Robertson said.

“This makes sense for whatever government is in power to do so, because inevitably they are going to have to provide that kind of information anyways. This way there are no surprises and there is now some rigour,” he said, adding it is particularly important for the bureaucracy so it knows what to prepare for.

International trade strategist Peter Clark, president of Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates, said Canada has a “long way to go” to match the U.S. system when it comes to trade deals, which involves calling for public submissions from stakeholders and other non-governmental groups.

In the American system, Mr. Clark said there is a far better understanding of what the issues are in a trade negotiation.

“In Canada, we’re overly secretive about these things.”

He said it is “essential” to have the government table an economic assessment at the same time it tables a trade deal’s implementation bill, saying “otherwise, the opposition is buying a pig in a poke.”

US Election

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U.S. presidential campaign likely to be ‘ugly or uglier than last time,’ and of ‘deep concern’ to Canadians, say politicos

By MIKE LAPOINTE      
Former Liberal foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister John Manley says the U.S. election campaign ‘is going to be a very touchy thing for Canadian politicians to handle.’
U.S. President Donald J. Trump, pictured on July 14, 2020, at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House. Pollster Nik Nanos says the presidential campaign will be ‘as ugly or uglier than last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.’ Photograph courtesy of the White House Flickr account

With skyrocketing deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States, cases on the rise in that country, and the extension of the Canada-U.S. border closure until Aug. 21, Canadians are paying very close attention to the U.S. political situation as the presidential election campaign heats up, which some pollsters expect to be “uglier than the last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.”

Pollster and president of Ekos Research Frank Graves told The Hill Times that Canadians are extremely tuned in to what’s going on down south, and that the presidential election is “an area of deep concern.”

“It seems to be definitely affecting how we’re looking at things within our own borders, but there’s a high level of anxiety of what’s going on to the south,” said Mr. Graves. “I’ve never seen Canadians so alarmed about what’s going on with our neighbours to the south, and this includes things like the Iraq War, George W. Bush, but nothing even close to the levels of concern that we see right now.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, pictured on July 15, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. Photograph courtesy of the White House Flickr 

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau once characterized the relationship between Canada and the United States as “sleeping next to an elephant.”

“It appears that the elephant now has rabies, and that does not make a comfortable bedfellow,” said Mr. Graves. “What to do about it? It really is hard to say—I don’t think most Canadians have any confidence that Donald Trump is going to turn things around,” said Mr. Graves.

“They’re, I think, hoping and waiting for a change in government in November.”

Mr. Nanos of Nanos Research told The Hill Times that the first inclination for Canadian politicians and policy-makers should be to “stay clear” of U.S. politics.

“Right now, we’re in a very volatile situation in the United States because of the rising number of cases, the perceived lack of coordination in the response, the potential recurrence or emergence of a second wave, and from a political perspective, the best thing Canada can do is to stay clear of all of that because you don’t want Canada to be part of the narrative.”

“The best case scenario for Canada is when Americans don’t pay attention to us because that just means everything is working well,” said Mr. Nanos. “To enter into a scrap over the border, for example, basically immerses us into a hyper-partisan context in the United States where people are exceptionally polarized.”

Mr. Nanos said from a political establishment perspective, our federal party leaders should govern themselves in a way for us to stay out of the debate that’s happening in the United States—and “to not get immersed in what’s going to be a very turbulent fall for the presidential election.”

Mr. Nanos said that the presidential campaign will be “as ugly or uglier than last time because of Donald Trump’s survival instinct.”

“We have to realize that the Trump strategy has never been to get people to like him or to be popular,” said Mr. Nanos. “The Trump strategy has always been to suppress voter turnout for his opponents.”

“I don’t think that he’s going to attack Biden four months before election day—he’s going to look to smear and question the integrity of Biden in the fall,” said Mr. Nanos, who added that polling leading up to an election is a tricky time for campaigns.

“If you’re so far ahead, when the technical correction comes to your true level of support, it’s going to look like your losing support and that your opponents have momentum, when the reality is you’re just artificially ahead right now.”

The worst thing for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is to show a massive lead against Trump, because the reality is, that’s probably not his true level of support, said Mr. Nanos.

“It just happens to be how people feel today on Donald Trump,” said Mr. Nanos. “If Biden has a 10-point lead, and then the next month he has a seven point lead, and the month after that he has a five-point lead, and there will be a narrative that he is losing support.”

Social media will play a bigger role in this campaign compared to 2016, says Senator Boehm

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario) said “in Canada, we are always very avid observers of what is happening in the U.S. electoral cycle, whether it’s midterm elections or the big one that’s coming up in November,” said Sen. Boehm.

“When I was posted in Washington, during the Gore versus Bush election, the one that was won by the hanging chad and eventually went to the Supreme Court, there’s always drama in U.S. elections in a way that we don’t seem to have by comparison,” said Sen Boehm. “There will be a lot of observation, and I think at the political level, a lot of attention not to be seen as favouring one candidate over another, just like the last time,” said Sen. Boehm.

Sen. Boehm also said he thinks social media, which Mr. Trump makes considerable use of, will play a bigger role in the campaign than it did in 2016.

“It was prevalent in 2016, and Twitter is obviously a tool that President Trump uses, and uses to his advantage, but I would say there’s always nastiness in political campaigns, but I would say that the real nastiness will be seen on social media,” said Sen. Boehm. “That’s, frankly, where it could get dangerous because you have an unprecedented situation with the pandemic, you have the racism issue which is significant, and you have some global geopolitical issues that are more prevalent than they were before—I’m speaking obviously of China, in this instance.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, with more than 30 years in Canada’s foreign service, told The Hill Times “we’ve never had a president like him.”

“And that’s acknowledged globally, and in normal circumstances, our entrée into the United States system is through the office of the presidency and administration,” said Mr. Robertson.

“With Trump, we’ve had to work around dealing as best as we can with secretaries, who come and go with remarkable rapidity, but that has proven to be useful and necessary, particularly during the negotiation of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement,” said Mr. Robertson.

President Donald J. Trump boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, July 15, 2020, to begin his trip to Atlanta. Photograph courtesy: Official White House photo by Tia Dufour

Former Liberal foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister John Manley said the U.S. election campaign “is going to be a very touchy thing for Canadian politicians to handle.”

“There’s always a balance that you need to project on the Canada-U.S. file—on the one hand, historically, it’s always been important not to be seen to be too close to the United States. On the other hand, Canadians intuitively know they have important interests tied up, especially economic interests, many family ties, they like traveling there and going there freely,” said Mr. Manley.

When asked to predict the tenor of Mr. Trump’s campaign against Democratic nominee and former vice-president Mr. Biden, Mr. Manley said he “doesn’t think a leopard changes its spots.”

“I look at him as somebody who is incapable what’s true and what isn’t,” said Mr. Manley. “He just makes stuff up, and he defines a reality according to his own purposes, so I think he’ll continue to do that.”

“The way I see the election playing out, is that I don’t think he wins over anybody to his side that isn’t already with him, so I think it all becomes a question of who shows up to vote,” said Mr. Manley. “For the Democrats, the good thing is that Donald Trump really motivates their base.”

Political Appointees and Diplomacy

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Trudeau’s penchant for political appointees shows lack of appreciation for ambassadors’ work: former senior diplomat

By NEIL MOSS      
‘[Trudeau] neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people,’ says Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.
Bob Rae is the second straight political appointee to hold the role of Canada’s ambassador to the UN. He will start his post on Aug. 4. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected another political appointee for one of Canada’s most high-profile diplomatic posts, a former senior ambassador says the prime minister fails to understand the importance of career diplomats.

Bob Rae’s appointment as the next Canadian ambassador to the UN is the latest in a series of political appointees taking the most prolific diplomatic posts in the Canadian foreign service. That list includes the appointment of Mr. Rae’s predecessor Marc-André Blanchard, Dominic Barton and former immigration minister John McCallum as ambassadors to China, former privy council clerk Janice Charette as high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Isabelle Hudon as ambassador to France, former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion as ambassador to Germany and envoy to the EU, and David MacNaughton as former ambassador to the U.S.

Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who, during his time in the foreign service, was responsible for leading the heads of mission nomination process, said the successive selections of political appointees shows that Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) doesn’t understand foreign affairs and he doesn’t understand the importance of diplomacy.

“Diplomacy is not show business,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau has had an approach to appoint people who are well known. “He neglects the fact that you need experience and competent people.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said the selection of political appointees sends a “bad message” to career diplomats, as few of the most high-profile posts can be filled by foreign service officers.

He added there are aspects of diplomacy that political appointees have not been able to do, especially those with less understanding of global governance and the geopolitical reality on the ground. He also said political appointees are unaware of the demands associated with diplomatic posts.

“Political appointees won’t be able to carry these kinds of discussions,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “The value of an ambassador is your capacity to network and to be a good networker you have to be knowledgable.”

He said that when picking the replacement for Mr. McCallum, he urged the government to pick a career diplomat for the Beijing post. Mr. McCallum resigned after comments he made that were out of step with the messaging of the Canadian government on the extradition hearing of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Although Mr. Rae has lots of good qualities, Mr. Saint-Jacques said he isn’t trained as a diplomat.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) said Mr. Rae has “dedicated his life to serving Canadians and has done crucial work as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar and Canada’s special envoy on humanitarian and refugee issues.”

Syrine Khoury said Mr. Rae will “continue to strengthen Canada’s presence at the UN and on the world stage,” adding that the selection of ambassadors is based on their “vast and varied experience,” and the political appointees are “highly qualified individuals who bring a unique set of skills and knowledge in line with our foreign policy objectives.”

A Liberal source told The Hill Times on background that it’s important political appointees have a wide-range of experience and skills beyond being diplomats, citing Mr. Blanchard’s work in the private sector being helpful at the UN on developmental funding.

The source said it is important to have vast experience, including backgrounds in politics and business, in order to send countries around the world a message that diplomacy is important to Canada.

The use of political appointees for diplomatic posts has been a tradition in Canadian diplomacy which intensified under former prime minister Brian Mulroney and continued with successive governments. Past prime minister Stephen Harper raised eyebrows for appointing Toronto lawyer Vivian Bercovici as ambassador to Israel, Bruno Saccomani—who previously was the head of his RCMP security detail—as envoy to Jordan, former House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers as ambassador to Ireland, and defeated former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon as envoy to France.

Mr. Trudeau selected Kirsten Hillman, a career diplomat, as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. She is the first career diplomat in the post since Michael Kergin held the role from 2000 to 2005.

Former diplomat Gilles Rivard, president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, said when a political appointee gets a top job, there is always a question if a career diplomat would be better suited to handle the post.

But in the case of Mr. Rae, he said, he already has some experience on the world stage in his special envoy roles. Mr. Rae was a former NDP premier of Ontario and the interim federal Liberal leader from 2011 to 2013.

Mr. Rivard, a former deputy permanent representative to the UN and ambassador to Haiti, said the danger of selecting political appointees is seen in the case of Mr. McCallum.

He said more and more political appointees will be discouraging for those in the foreign service who want to hold those positions.

“It’s obvious that it affects the morale of people,” he said.

The head of the union representing foreign service officers said there is a recognition that it is the government’s prerogative to appoint the people it wants.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said there is a recognition that there are political appointees that bring a distinct set of skills to some appointments like the ambassador to the U.S. and the UN, noting there is a close co-operation with the foreign service.

Ms. Isfeld said the concern is when political appointees are selected to lead much smaller missions.

“The person then starts to have less of a support staff to help them,” she said, adding that in general the existing professional foreign service should be the “first port of call” when looking to fill diplomatic posts.

The appointment of Mr. Rae, Ms. Isfeld said, carries on the acceptable tradition of political appointees and has a lot of support within PAFSO.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, a past PAFSO president, said there are cases where a political appointee makes the most sense, adding that in Washington, D.C., having a political appointee in the role gave Canada greater access.

Although Mr. Harper appointed career diplomats to the UN post, Mr. Robertson said the appointments of Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Rae shows the added emphasis that Mr. Trudeau places on the UN, adding that sending his Mr. Rae to New York City shows that Canada is still “quite serious” about the UN despite the unsuccessful Security Council election.

P

Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, said in email that the disadvantage in appointing career diplomats is that the foreign service generates “uniformity in thinking.”

“The best ambassadors are independent thinkers who can speak directly to a prime minister and influence his decisions,” he said, adding that is why Mr. Rae is the “best person” for the UN job.

“He has more than 20 years of work in international affairs on issues ranging from terrorism, federalism, and human rights—but importantly, he led this work as an independent actor, coming up with his own judgements on the application of Canada’s interests. That makes his perspective even more valuable than someone who has been in the system for decades.”

He added that the foreign service needs a change to reward “innovation and new thinking.”

Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.), who served as Canada’s chargée d’affaires in El Salvador and was a policy adviser to then-minister of state for Foreign Affairs for the Americas Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), said there are “pros and cons” for both the selection of political appointees and career diplomats.

“You can get good people out of both systems, and you can get bad people out of both systems,” she said.

She said while political appointees don’t always know the practices of the foreign service, they do know government policies in depth and know the prime minister and foreign affairs minister.

In her time in the foreign service, Ms. Kusie said she saw the same high-level people being recycled over again for various heads of missions.

“It’s frustrating and demoralizing for lower people that want the opportunity to serve at a higher capacity,” she said, adding that another issue is the tight rules that diplomats are restricted to in creating policy and speaking to the media.

“The golden ticket isn’t always foreign service officers, because in a way it is its own political party, promoting the same people,” Ms. Kusie said. “It’s good to have a healthy mixture of both as long as they are intelligent, [have] good judgement, and are courageous to implement the political ideology, but tactful in doing that.”

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former career diplomat who served as ambassador to Germany and was Mr. Trudeau’s G7 sherpa, said the selection of political appointees is cyclical.

“If you want to have a head of mission who is plugged in to the centre to the PMO and the PCO, you’ll go with a political appointee if it makes sense to do so,” he said.

He said the Canadian system is nothing compared to the one the U.S. has, where a large number of its ambassadors around the world are large political donors.

Sen. Boehm said Mr. Rae is “cut out” for multilateral work, adding that some on the political side have that capability, comparing him to past UN ambassador and former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis.

USMCA CUSMA comes into effect

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New NAFTA comes into force Canada Day amid tariff threats, COVID-19 uncertainty

by Cormac Macsweeney

Posted Jun 30, 2020 9:17 am MDT

National flags representing Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. are lit by stage lights at the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, renegotiations, in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Marco Ugarte
Summary

The USMCA will come into effect on July 1

It comes amid economic turmoil caused by COVID-19

The USMCA is expected to bring modest gains to Canada’s economy, with close to a $7-billion boost in the next five years

OTTAWA – The new NAFTA will come into effect on Wednesday amid the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The negotiations caused months of fear in business and economic circles, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to pull out of the trade agreement both our economies and Mexico rely on.

But after ratification earlier this year, the new NAFTA — formally the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — comes into force appropriately on Canada Day, bringing with it protections for the auto parts sector, more American access to our dairy market, stricter labour rules for Mexico, and measures to reduce the prices of pharmaceutical drugs.

Colin Robertson with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says this deal gives businesses confidence that Canada still has privileged access to our largest trading partner, but the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of questions about the future of our economies.

“What it will depend on will be the growth of both economies’ ends. The pandemic puts the big question mark on recovery and what that means for the future, so that one I can’t answer,” he says.

Meanwhile, Marc Agnew with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says the COVID-19 pandemic may delay some of the benefits we get from this deal.

“I don’t think the new NAFTA is going to, necessarily, have a chance to really show its true value, probably until two or three, four years down the line,” he explains.

However, Agnew believes this is a vital deal, regardless, because it will give businesses in Canada the security and confidence to plan for the years ahead.

He adds the moment is soured by Trump once again threatening tariffs on Canadian aluminium.

“It runs exactly counter to both the kind of spirit and the intent of what we’re trying to do with this agreement,” Agnew says.

Canada and the U.S. do $2 billion in trade a day. The USMCA is expected to bring modest gains to Canada’s economy, with close to a $7-billion boost in the next five years,

“It’s still the biggest, single bilateral trading relationship in the world,” Robertson notes.

WEBINAR — USMCA’S ENTRY INTO FORCE: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES FOR NORTH AMERICAN TRADE

Although most observers agree that the renegotiation process of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was more complicated than it had to be and that the final text is less than perfect, at the end of the day NAFTA’s replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), does represent an important modernization of the framework under which trade will take place in North America in the coming decades. The USMCA enters into force on July 1. Its implementation poses important challenges for corporations, investors and other key actors, who will have to interpret the agreement, wait for rules and regulations to be rolled out, retool their business models to conform to it and understand the new general incentives landscape for trade and investment. This webinar explored the prospects for success and the challenges of implementing the new USMCA through the analysis of experts on commerce and economic integration in North America.

This event was sponsored by the Center for the United States and Mexico. Additional support for this webinar was provided by Transnational Dispute Management. Follow @BakerCtrUSMEX on Twitter and join the conversation online with #BakerMexico.

AGENDA

11:00 a.m. — Presentation
11:30 a.m. — Q&A

FEATURED SPEAKERS

C.J. Mahoney, J.D.
Deputy United States Trade Representative for Investment, Services, Labor, Environment, Africa, China, and the Western Hemisphere

Charles “Chip” Roh
Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for North America; former Deputy Chief Negotiator, North American Free Trade Agreement for the United States; former Associate General Counsel, Office of the United States Trade Representative

Kenneth Smith-Ramos
Partner and International Trade Consultant, Agon International Trade Consultants; former chief negotiator for the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement for Mexico

Colin Robertson
Vice President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute; former member, Deputy Minister of International Trade’s NAFTA Advisory Council and the North American Forum; former member, negotiation team for the Canada-US FTA and NAFTA


WELCOME SPEAKER

Tony Payan, Ph.D.
Françoise and Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies, Baker Institute; Director, Center for the United States and Mexico, Baker Institute


MODERATOR

David Gantz, J.D.
Will Clayton Fellow in Trade and International Economics, Baker Institute

 

China and Canada: Kovrig and Spavor

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To break the impasse on the detention of Spavor and Kovrig, Canada has 3 options

 

Colin Robertson · for CBC News · Posted: Jun 26, 2020

Say a prayer for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Their chances of freedom are remote without collective action by the democracies.

What a mess. Had we known the implications of proceeding with the U.S. extradition request for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018, we might well have shown the “creative incompetence” suggested by former foreign affairs minister John Manley by letting her complete her flight to Mexico.

Now, Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor face decades in Chinese prison. In China, rule of law is what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decides is in the best interest of the CCP, making them prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.

According to the Chinese foreign ministry, this case is based on “clear facts and solid evidence,” their stock phrase when results are already decided.

For months now the Canadian government has applied what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes as a “wide range of public and private measures,” Canada having developed a “certain expertise in what has worked to get Canadians home in very difficult circumstances.” Unfortunately, with no consular access for months, Messrs. Spavor and Kovrig are now in even more difficult circumstances.

Getting tough — or giving in

There is no easy way to secure the release of the two Michaels. Going forward, the Trudeau government has three broad options:

First, continue the current approach of responding to Chinese actions while encouraging allies to speak out. Mr. Trudeau has hardened his language, now “deploring” Chinese actions and refuting Chinese claims that Canada is “racist” or employing “double standards” in detaining Meng. But it would be diplomatic self-delusion to think this is having any effect on the Chinese.

 

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, was detained in Vancouver in December 2018. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Second, do a swap or release Meng. A swap, as suggested early on by John Manley as well as some diplomats and officials, might have worked in the early stages, especially if the government had employed former prime minister Jean Chretien as envoy. But that time has probably passed.

The release of Meng using the authority of the justice minister — as now suggested by another former minister, a Supreme Court justice and a group of former parliamentarians and diplomats — would represent an about-face by the Canadian government. Having wrapped itself in the cloak of high principle on the “rule of law” and “independence of the judiciary,” such a move would be viewed as appeasement by critics and our allies.

Despite his musings about using Meng to get a better trade deal with China, U.S. President Donald Trump may well decide to take retaliatory action against Canada.

For the Chinese, it would be a vindication of “hostage diplomacy” and bullying. What assurances, moreover, do we have that the Chinese would immediately release the two Michaels?

A more co-ordinated approach

The third option is to show more muscle and respond asymmetrically to Chinese bullying. As a first step, revoke the visas for the children of senior officials studying in Canada and ask our Five Eyes partners to take similar action. The Chinese prize an English-language education. Xi Jinping’s daughter studied at Harvard; Xi himself did work and studied in Iowa.

Canada hosts approximately 140,000 Chinese students — even if they cannot travel to Canada, they will want to continue their education remotely. You can be sure the students’ families would be upset.

We should also raise the stakes by taking the cases of the two Michaels to the International Court of Justice, alleging torture (Kovrig’s wife told CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault that he’s been imprisoned without access to daylight for more than 560 days) and infringement of Mr. Kovrig’s diplomatic privileges (the Chinese interrogated him on his service at our embassy in Beijing, a violation of diplomatic norms).

WATCH | Michael Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, talks about her husband’s detention:

Michael Kovrig’s wife (though separated) Vina Nadjibulla speaks for the first time in an exclusive interview with Adrienne Arsenault about his detention, Canada’s diplomacy and her fears for the future. Nadjibulla also shares letters Kovrig has sent during his 560 days in a Chinese prison. 13:23

We should employ a team of human rights lawyers from NATO countries as well as Commonwealth and Francophonie nations to underline that this is a multilateral effort.

The Chinese may well respond with more sanctions on Canadian trade, in which case we should immediately appeal to the World Trade Organization, arguing that the Chinese are violating their trade obligations.

Holding China to account

China has taken an a la carte approach to the rules-based system, especially in its abuse of trade privileges. We need to hold China to account. In addition to seeking redress through the WTO, we should also initiate an OECD-endorsed code of conduct for state-owned enterprises, modelled after provisions in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership.

The government should be looking at variations on all three options — the pros and cons involved in each — and ask the Canada-China parliamentary committee to canvas for more ideas.

 

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says the world’s democracies need to use their collective weight to hold China and its leader, Xi Jinping, right, to account. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

We have allies and friends. China doesn’t, really — they have clients, like North Korea. The democracies need to use their collective weight to sustain a system that has given the world relative peace and increased prosperity for 75 years .

When Pierre Trudeau established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China 50 years ago, it was an astute recognition that one-fifth of humanity could not be ignored.

No one is ignoring China anymore, but being big does not give China a free pass on human rights and international obligations. Its access to the rules-based global order allowed it to restore itself as the powerful Middle Kingdom. Unless the democracies stand together, China will just keep taking hostages and breaking the norms.

Canada US Relations

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Amid tension at the top, U.S.-Canada ties are tight

 

Wednesday, July 1, is Canada Day.

It’s also, in effect, North America Day, at least for trade, since it’s the implementation date for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the free-trade pact that replaces NAFTA.

And one could even call it Canada-Minnesota Day, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of what is today the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, which serves Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas. To mark the anniversary, Global Minnesota will host a webinar on Wednesday to explore various aspects of the Canada-Minnesota relationship.

That includes trade, which is tremendously important for Minnesota. The state exported $4.7 billion of agricultural, mining and manufactured products north of the border last year, nearly twice the $2.5 billion sent to China, the second-biggest market.

“There’s a special connection that forms between Canadians and those that live on the northern border,” said Ariel Delouya, the consul general of Canada in Minneapolis. And even “before there was a border,” added Delouya, referring to indigenous peoples, traders and explorers, among others.

The connections continue, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who is now vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “The relationship is a bit like the Mississippi River: It’s deep, it’s profound and it flows,” Robertson said.

And like a river, at times it’s turbulent. At least at the top, with Washington and Ottawa often at odds despite the steady state of equilibrium and equanimity among everyday people in the two countries.

“There are times when the relationship at the top between the president and the prime minister has been tense,” Robertson said. “But the hidden wiring of the relationship, the people-to-people contact, and the relationship at the official [state-provincial] level, and of course the business connections, remain strong.”

Robertson noted the famously frosty relationship between former President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. And it’s been even icier between Trudeau’s son, Justin, the current prime minister, and President Donald Trump. And a reinforcing cold front — from the south, no less — may soon arrive (potentially on Canada Day), in the reimposition of tariffs on Canadian aluminum.

“Bringing back these tariffs would be like a bad horror movie,” Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the New York Times.

Or, more diplomatically stated, “Issues keep coming back up again that we used to call the ‘hardy perennials’ at the embassy,” said Sarah Goldfeder, referring to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, where she served as an envoy before also joining the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, just like Robertson.

While the two former diplomats served different countries, those nations’ mostly convergent views reflect a general U.S.-Canada consensus that belies the Trump-Trudeau tensions.

As a Canadian envoy, Robertson said that was an asset. “While we see ourselves as different, we’re not that different,” Robertson said. “I can tell you as a diplomat, our leverage in the world came from our ability to reach into Washington, because the rest of the world wanted to know what Washington thought. Just as in the same way, Washington wanted to know what Canada’s perception of other countries were, because we understood that frame of reference was so similar that you could put that into an American perspective.”

Sometimes the country people want Canadian insight into is America itself. And beyond asking diplomats, direct questions are posed to the prime minister himself, who Goldfeder said “has been very careful when he speaks publicly about his relationship with President Donald Trump.” (Privately, not so much, as Trudeau found out when a video of him and other Western leaders laughing at the president went viral, leading Trump to call Trudeau “two-faced.”)

That incident may explain the reticence seen in another Trudeau video that went viral. Asked about Trump’s response to the protests roiling America, Trudeau paused a long, drawn-out 21 seconds. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he earnestly answered, “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.”

That’s an accurate characterization, said Goldfeder. “Canadians are looking at the United States and saying, ‘We’re worried about our friends and neighbors; we’re worried about you guys,’ ” Goldfeder said. “There’s a bit of pride in the way that they’ve managed their own response to COVID, their own response to race relations, which are far from perfect, and they acknowledge that.”

Not just everyday Canadians acknowledge it, but their prime minister, too, who added after his U.S. analysis that “it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges. … There is systemic discrimination in Canada.” (Some will say that includes Trudeau himself, whose progressive image was tarnished when old blackface photographs of him emerged during Canada’s 2019 election.)

Beyond the alacrity of the pandemic and protests, other challenges include China, which on June 20 charged two detained Canadians for espionage in a case widely seen as leverage against Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, on a U.S. warrant. And despite Canada’s — and Trudeau’s — surge on the world stage, the country didn’t win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, losing out to Norway and Ireland in a vote this month.

Such setbacks need not further set back the bilateral relationship. Instead, Washington and Ottawa can and should work closely on these and other diplomatic dilemmas.

That would reflect the “remarkably resilient” relationship, as Delouya describes it. In fact, he added, the countries’ tight ties “are so deep, so multifaceted, they span every sphere of economic and governmental activity you can imagine.”

Including sports. Especially, of course, hockey.

Indeed, while the official Canada Day may be on July 1, an unofficial one may occur on July 10, when NHL training camps hope to open before a postseason that includes a Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks playoff series.

“There have been a lot of issues where the U.S. and Canada haven’t aligned on pandemic response, but the NHL has managed to bridge that,” Goldfeder said. “It’s critically important, and a huge morale boost for both sides of the border.”

To be sure, spirits will be lifted across Canada and at least in the northern U.S. when the puck drops. But not just at the professional level: In Minnesota, youth and amateur teams can start scrimmaging on Wednesday — fittingly, however unwittingly, on Canada Day.

John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.

USMCA, Reopening the Border and Digitization

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When you are in a hole, you must find a way out. For Canada, expanding our trade relationships in order to expand our economy is still the best way to get ourselves out of debt. Our main customer will always be the United States, which is still the world’s biggest market. With our updated trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), coming into effect July 1, we need to seize this opportunity.

It starts with reopening the Canada-U.S. border. We applied risk-management principles after 9/11 to provide secure, but efficient, cross-border passage. We must do so again in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recent border shutdown extension, now in effect until July 21, will mark four months of closing to all but essential traffic between Canada and the U.S. This deprives us of trade and investment opportunities. Health considerations must be made, but surely there is room to consider regional openings.

Ours is a long border. The stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific is almost 9,000 kilometres (further than the journey from London to Beijing), while the line dividing Alaska and Yukon is another 2,200 km (equivalent to the distance from Moscow to Berlin). The European Union – which is half the size of Canada – has created travel bubbles. We should do the same.

In managing this pandemic, each province has responded to its own circumstances. Our island provinces and Quebec temporarily closed their borders. The North remains shut. Reopening began in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Ontario, restrictions were first relaxed outside of Toronto. One-size-fits-all has not applied within Canada. Let’s demonstrate the same flexibility in reopening to tourism and commerce.

Why not implement an approach that allows the premiers, in consultation with the federal government, to determine access for outsiders, starting with travellers from the U.S.? Start with pilot projects at our smaller crossings, such as Sweetgrass, Mont., and Coutts, Alta. Let’s move forward with a proposed project by the Future Borders Coalition, wherein travellers from the U.S. could be precleared for entry at Vancouver International Airport. Canada can become a global leader in safe reopening, but it will require innovation and risk management. Alaska has demonstrated leadership in this regard, with clear requirements for passage in and out of the state: All entrants must have a COVID-19 test administered upon entry or show proof of a recent negative test.

The pandemic is accelerating consumer use of digital trade. Fortunately, the USMCA chapter on digital trade is best in class, as it allows for the creation of a digital portal for trade information. As with other parts of the agreement, there is provision for stakeholders to keep the USMCA evergreen and tackle challenges such as the technical barriers to trade. Industry and industry associations were energized by the USMCA. They need to stay vigilant and keep governments focused on expediting cross-border trade.

A key challenge as we work our way out of the pandemic will be to digitize our current paper-dependent supply chains. We must make our North American trade platforms more efficient by increasing our reliance on digital systems and technology. This should include applying digital technology to the rapid delivery of emergency relief supplies and, eventually, an efficient and verifiable global vaccine distribution process. Using artificial intelligence, big data analytics and blockchain technologies, the Swiss-based Global Coalition for Efficient Logistics is doing groundbreaking work on creating platforms for digitizing trade. North America should be the road test for its application. That work, as well as the continuing practical efforts on supply chains and logistics by the North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO), would position North America for more investment.

Digitization is the infrastructure of the future. It’s the kind of big-picture project needed by all three North American federal governments and our 95 states, provinces and territories. Using technology creates greater efficiency and transparency while reducing costs and improving access to finance and insurance. Digitization helps level the playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the U.S. is still the easiest market for these businesses to access. If we get it right in North America, this platform and its standards can have global applications, starting with our transatlantic and transpacific partnerships.

The ride to the USMCA was bumpy. U.S. President Donald Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs reminded us of both the importance of the American market and how vital supply chains are to North American prosperity. The U.S. buys three-quarters of Canada’s exports and remains our biggest investor. As the U.S. decouples from China and supply chains are rerouted to North America, there are opportunities for Canada. It starts with the regional, risk-based reopening of our borders, followed by taking a leadership role in digitized trade.

Michaels Spavor and Kovrig

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Chances of Kovrig and Spavor getting out of China is ‘very slim’: Fmr. Canadian diplomat

BNN June 19 2020: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been formally indicted on spying charges by Chinese authorities. The move comes a year and a half after they were detained in what’s perceived to be retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of U.S. authorities. Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat and current VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute joins BNN Bloomberg to weigh in. He says that Canada needs to take more punitive measures against China.

UN Security Council Vote

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Losing Security Council seat might embarrass Trudeau but would signal a bigger problem: experts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the time of publication, Canada has lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. For more details on the vote, click here.Losing the quest for a seat on the United Nations Security Council might lead to red cheeks for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even if many Canadians aren’t following the race closely, experts say.But a loss would signal a much bigger problem with Canadian foreign policy, they add. 

Canada loses bid for United Nations Security Council seat

Canada loses bid for United Nations Security Council seat

“I don’t think it will have an impact on the next election, but I think it would be personally a bit embarrassing for Trudeau,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

I think there’s a sense that everybody likes Canada, or at least we like to think that.”

READ MORE: How COVID-19 changed Canada’s battle for a UN Security Council seat

Canada will learn either Wednesday or Thursday afternoon whether Trudeau’s multi-year push for one of the two Security Council seats available in the Western Europe and others category is a success.

Two-thirds of the available votes are needed to win on the first ballot on Wednesday afternoon.

If that’s not achieved, voting continues for a second ballot and those results will come out on Thursday.

Trudeau was asked by a journalist on Wednesday whether he believed a defeat would be a personal failing for him, but did not answer. Instead, he characterized the bid for a seat as “just an extra way” for Canada to make its voice heard on the world stage.

“A seat on the United Nations Security Council is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end.”

Trudeau makes final pitch for UN Security Council seat

Trudeau makes final pitch for UN Security Council seat

Trudeau vowed during the 2015 election campaign to run for one of the rotating seats and made the argument that the former Conservative government’s pivot away from the United Nations and toward institutions like NATO and the G20 hurt Canada’s standing in the world.

But in the years since, critics have frequently argued the government isn’t living up to its support for the United Nations, particularly when it comes to peacekeeping.

Canadian troop deployments to UN missions now stand at a 60-year low despite Trudeau making a commitment to peacekeeping a pillar of his 2015 platform.

READ MORE: Number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed abroad hits 60-year low

Bessma Momani, a professor of international relations at the University of Waterloo and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said another loss for Canada would go beyond just a defeat for Trudeau personally but serve as a broader indictment of Canadian investment in the UN.

“It’s not just about him,” Momani said. “It’s not American Idol.”

If we don’t get it, it’s going to be: Canada, you guys talk a big game, you guys are full of great rhetoric, you look awesome. But, you know, where’s the beef?”

Trudeau may be the amicable poster child of multilateralism and diversity … but at the end of the day, that’s not enough,” Momani continued. “Where’s the dollars? Where’s the troops? Where’s the presence that people expect?”

At the same time, highlighting the value Canada places on things like diversity, inclusion and economic security — as Global Affairs Canada did on Twitter this week — likely does little to set Canada apart.

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Do you know what makes Canada stand out at this year’s ?

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“I just am not especially convinced there’s anything that’s particularly Canadian about what he’s proposing,” said David Perry, also a vice president with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Perry said it’s like doing so implicitly implies the Irish or the Norwegians aren’t also supporters of all those things when surely they are.  

ANALYSIS: Trudeau’s personal brand tied to success — or failure — of UN Security Council race

Perry also said a loss would serve as a signal of a bigger issue with Canadian foreign policy.

If we don’t win again, I think that it potentially implies more about some of the structural factors of our foreign policy than we might have thought,” he said.

Momani said she hopes that if Canada loses the seat, the government will use it as a real chance to evaluate where it needs to do better in creating concrete change in its foreign policy.

“If we lose, I think we should take stock,” she said.

“It’s a time for self-reflection and to say: OK, why didn’t we get it? And hopefully, it spurs a conversation about how we are really high on the rhetoric, but not on the substance.”

READ MORE: UN sets new voting rules for Canada’s Security Council campaign amid COVID-19

Robertson added that while a loss would likely fuel criticism from Conservatives around whether the campaign was a waste of time and money, it would be unlikely to have much of an impact at the polls.

“I think it will be a bit deflating for Canadians, who like to think of ourselves as internationalists,” Robertson said. “But does it matter to the average voter? Ultimately, I don’t think a lot.”

A seat at the UN Security Council would be nice. It would be kind of a vindication of Canada as a nice internationalist. But I’m not sure that would rank in the top 10 priorities of most Canadians right now.

S

Ambassadors have been casting their secret ballots in staggered time slots rather than at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly out of fears about the spread of COVID-19.

Time for Champagne?: Canada awaits UN Security Council vote in New York City

By NEIL MOSS      
Plus, Senator Lillian Dyck calls for the RCMP commissioner’s resignation and Canadians to celebrate Canada Day virtually with Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, and others.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made gaining a seat on the UN Security Council a core

In what could be one of the most important days for the legacy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s foreign policy, Canada will find out if it will have a spot on the UN Security Council for the first time in 20 years after the UN General Assembly votes on who will win on June 17.

Canada is facing tough competition for two open seats in the Western Europe and Others bloc for the 2021 and 2022 term from Norway and Ireland. It is expected that Norway will win a seat, leaving Canada and Ireland to compete for the second.

Canada joined the campaign late, announcing its bid in 2016. Ireland and Norway started their campaigns in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

The bid is part of Mr. Trudeau’s pledge to re-engage with the UN. The campaign for the Security Council seat was one of the few foreign policy objectives listed in last year’s throne speech.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told The Hill Times that the campaign was a personal mission for Mr. Trudeau.

“It’s the one foreign policy venture that is truly his,” Mr. Robertson said

In the past few weeks, Mr. Trudeau has been making a series of calls to world leaders, some of which have involved Canada’s UN Security Council campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has joined Canada’s UN ambassador, Marc-André Blanchard, in New York City for the final stretch of the campaign.

The Canadian delegation at the United Nations has been tight-lipped on whether they feel they have the necessary votes to win a spot on the Security Council. The last time Canada tried to win a spot on the body in 2010, the Harper government felt it had the votes to win, but in the end the bid fell short. A country needs at least 129 votes to win a spot on the council.

Canada has had a spot on the Security Council in every decade since the UN was formed in the 1940s until its 2010 defeat.

 

China-India Cpoflict

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China–India deadly border clash: Canadian analysts’ view

A long-standing dispute over the border between China and India has erupted in another violent clash, this time deadly. Initial reports said three Indian soldiers including an officer had been killed but that has now been increased to 20 dead, and possibly some taken prisoner in the high altitude sub zero conditions. It is presumed there were deaths and injuries on the Chinese side although there’s no official word.

Both sides are accusing the other of incursions into their territory and provocations.

There have been a series of small-scale violent physical brawls between the two armies in the past few years but this is the first time in some 45 years that there have been deaths. There was no gunfire and such incidents have typically involved rocks, clubs and fists.

CBC News

The ill-defined 3,488 kilometre border through rugged and inhospitable mountainous territory is guarded by troops of both countries on either side of what is called the Line of Actual Control which has been created along both Chinese and Pakistani controlled areas.  Talks to settle the dispute with China have been ongoing for years and the latest incident occurred even as higher level military talks to de-escalate were ongoing.

India’s north borders on both China and Pakistan, and all three countries are extremely protective of their borders, actual or perceived. India has had bitter wars with both.

Indian army soldiers rest next to artillery guns at a makeshift transit camp near Baltal, southeast of Srinagar, before heading to Ladakh on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Christian Leuprecht is a political science analyst at the Royal Military College and at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. He notes that India and China are rivals for power and influence, and India is also concerned that Pakistan plays a role in China’s strategic and economic ‘belt and road’ initiative and as such feels increased threat on both borders and feels vulnerable.

Leuprecht also says China will seize any opportunity to distract from the coronavirus, “China wants to be seen as strong and it knows India can ill afford to militarize the conflict.  By what appears to be bludgeoning three Indian soldiers to death, China is sending a signal that it will stand its ground.  Such an operation must have been authorized by the Chinese chain of command, likely from Beijing, because it constitutes about as serious an escalation as one can imagine without actually firing shots. But China is clearly looking to put Prime Minister Modi in his place in an attempt to preserve the status quo”.

While the tension has risen, analysts doubt either side wants to escalate to an actual shooting war.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat to China and the U.N. says the incident is nevertheless serious noting any conflict with nuclear powers involved is dangerous .

He says its another signal of Chinese leader Xi’s “pushing the envelope on its territorial claims across the Indo-Pacific in recent weeks”.

Robertson points out the Chinese have sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea, swarmed a Malaysian offshore oil rig, menaced Taiwan and is now tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

Shuvaloy Majumdar served as the policy director to successive Canadian foreign ministers, as well as senior policy advisor in international development, He is a Munk Senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute think tank.  He said,  “There is no equivalence between India and China in this dispute. China’s provocative military build up along the border in Ladakh, and recent games testing the limits of Indian sovereignty, have now resulted in the end of 40 years of stability.”

He added, “With twenty members of the Indian Forces who reportedly died defending their territorial integrity, Canadian leaders would be wise to stand alongside their Indian counterparts, condemn China’s aggression, take steps toward deepening cold climate military cooperation, and call upon China to demilitarize and deescalate the situation China created”.

In May, Chinese soldiers reportedly crossed the border at three separate areas in the Ladakh region near Tibet erecting tents and guard posts resulting in a physical confrontation.

The Chinese military says it can deploy thousands of soldiers and weapons from central China to the border with India “within hours”. Only last week the tow countries has said they had reached a consensus following a May incident (Photo: Weibo- via SCMP)

China is also flexing its muscle and pushing its control over the sea, having deployed a network of sensors and communications across the northern portion of the South China Sea.

Called the “Blue Ocean Information Network’ it is labeled by the Chinese as a demonstration system ostensibly for environmental monitoring and communication.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies notes in a brief by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that there are several fixed and floating platforms involved in the system which China is planning to expand to the rest of the South China Sea, the East China Sea and “other ocean territories far from Chinese territory”

The brief says of this system, “the military utility of its sensing and communications functions makes its development important to monitor.

Additional information-sources