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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 »

Canada-US Relations

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Look to the new NAFTA for the roadmap to the future of the Canada-U.S. bond

By COLIN ROBERTSON      
The CUSMA odyssey reminds us that our advocacy with Congress and the states must be a permanent campaign.
Then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a CUSMA signing ceremony on Nov. 30, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. White House photograph by Shealah Craighead

Canadian leadership needs to move beyond COVID-19 border controls and turn to implementing the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. In what is already a divisive U.S. election, we must also avoid anything that could be construed as interference.

The Nov. 3 elections will decide not just the presidency, but also, crucially, one-third of the Senate plus all 435 members of the House of Representatives as well as 11 governors, including in five border states—Washington, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

If it’s a referendum on the economy and direction of the country, then change is probable, but as former British prime minister Harold Wilson observed “a week is a long time in politics.” Most Canadians hope for deliverance from the Donald Trump show, but odds-makers still favour the president, so Canadian leaders should keep their thoughts to themselves.

The top table discussions between prime ministers and presidents concentrate on global issues and it’s more complicated with an administration that rejects multilateralism. Our diplomatic game needs to be in top form. Canada is already suffering collateral damage as the Sino-U.S. trade dispute morphs into Cold War territory. There will be more of a requirement for the kind of helpful fixing we are demonstrating through reforming the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement and on Venezuela though the Lima Group.

For most Canadians, what matters is the intermestic connections. These have been brought home with the COVID-imposed border controls. They fit into three broad baskets: trade and economics; climate, energy, and the environment; and security and defence. With three-quarters of our trade headed south, Canadians naturally prioritize trade and economics, but for the Americans, the top item is defence and security.

COVID-19 has fundamentally shocked both our economies. Our approach to relief is different but, with luck, our recoveries will be in tandem. Fortunately, the CUSMA, taking effect on July 1, gives us a mutually agreed set of rules, including provisions for digital trade that have accelerated with COVID.

COVID raised questions about the reliability of North American supply chains. Despite the planning on pandemics negotiated in 2012 by then-U.S. president Barack Obama, then-Mexican president Felipe Calderón, and then-prime minister Stephen Harper, there was limited North American co-ordination. We have got to do better, because the next time is likely to be sooner rather than later. Business has stepped up and governments should look to their call for a “North American Rebound,” especially around designing North American supply chains and creating strategic stockpiles.

With the Trump Administration in denial on climate change, the best Canadian approach is to work with those in Congress, states, and cities who share our approach. If Joe Biden is elected, then Keystone once more will be a flashpoint, but let’s not make it the litmus test of the relationship.

We also need to keep our eyes on the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Water management is increasingly complex given the interests involved. For now, the complicity between the different levels of government is what we aim for when negotiating with the Americans.

Trump wants the allies to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence. Canada currently spends about 1.3 per cent of GDP. Arguably we are doing our bit: active naval deployments in the Atlantic and Mediterranean; in Latvia where we lead the battle group; in the air with the Trudeau government doubling to 12 our deployable fighter jets.

But the Americans expect more and this won’t change with Biden. We should do more, especially in the Arctic around North American defence. The Russians are testing our defences and the Chinese are already implementing their Arctic strategy. The framework we announced last year is inadequate. We need a detailed strategy with funding for infrastructure and sustained operations. As the Americans remind us: “you claim sovereignty, so exercise it.” It’s also our best “defence against help.”

Then there is the decision on 5G:  do we use Huawei equipment in our next-generation telecommunications platform?  President Trump is clear—use China’s Huawei and Canadian membership in our shared Five Eyes intelligence network with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom will be in jeopardy. Business needs a decision. Punting the decision until after the U.S. election isn’t likely to change U.S. attitudes, as the Democrats are just as adamant about excluding Huawei.

The CUSMA odyssey reminds us that our advocacy with Congress and the states must be a permanent campaign. Close engagement is the responsibility not just of the prime minister and ministers but premiers and provincial legislators, as well as business and labour.

COVID’s social distancing robs us of the regional gatherings of premiers and governors, legislators, and civil society that constitute the hidden wiring of the relationship. In their weekly COVID calls, the prime minister and premiers should identify new opportunities for this vital informal engagement. Our prosperity and sovereignty depend on it.

UN Security Council bid

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

BY DAVID AKIN GLOBAL NEWS
Posted May 26, 2020 3:31 pm

Liars, cheats and hypocrites.

Many of the diplomats who get to cast a vote for the temporary members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will tell you they love you to your face but then vote for your enemy.

And why not? It’s a secret ballot. Which means no one ever knows which specific diplomats lied about their vote.

“People lie all the time,” said Adam Chapnick, a professor at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and the author of Canada on the United Nations Security Council, an excellent diplomatic history of Canada’s six successful bids for a seat on the UNSC and its two unsuccessful bids.

In the book, Chapnick charted the scorecard Canada had for its last attempt to win a UNSC seat on Oct. 21, 2010. In a battle between Germany, Portugal and Canada for two available seats, the government of Stephen Harper had managed to secure the support from diplomats representing 150 countries — including 135 who put it in writing that they would vote for Canada. To win a seat, a candidate country has to clear a threshold of two-thirds of the members of the general assembly, or 127 votes.

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But on the first ballot, Canada was shocked to find that it had finished third with just 114 ballots. And while Germany just managed to get over the necessary 127-vote threshold, Portugal had not. And so there was a second ballot, and this time, even more voters abandoned Canada. The country finished with 78 votes, got the message and withdrew from the race.

Clearly, about one-quarter — and possibly as many as one-half — of the diplomats who promised Canada their vote in 2010 were never true to their word.

And yet, despite the famous inconstancy of the UNSC voter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending a considerable amount of time this month wooing them ahead of this year’s UNSC vote, to be held in New York City on June 21. And, in doing so, Trudeau is binding himself — and himself only — to the success or failure of the bid.

Prime ministers have actively sought out seats on the Security Council before, but usually the foreign affairs minister for each one either fronted the bid or was one of the publicly visible politicians on the bid. But Trudeau’s three foreign affairs ministers — Stéphane Dion, Chrystia Freeland and, now, François-Philippe Champagne — were or are more closely identified with other files like NAFTA, Iran’s downing of the Ukraine International Airlines jet or the global response to COVID-19.

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“I think (Trudeau has) been reminded by his cabinet and caucus that this is on him,” said Colin Robertson, who is now the vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute after a long career as a Canadian diplomat. “He got us into this personally, and we didn’t have to do that. And so if he wants it, he’s really got to go after it. And I think he is going after it. I think he seemed to get that. He has to do this.”

Harper and his government sloughed off the 2010 loss as something they didn’t want to win anyhow — they would not sacrifice principles to win votes or, to use the phrase Conservatives bandied about at the time, they would not go along to get along. Indeed, by the time it had made its way through the Conservative spin machine, losing the 2010 vote was touted as a sign of Canada’s virtue, not failure.

It will be different this time.

“This would be a severe personal disappointment and would be seen by some as a personal failure, not cabinet’s,” said Robertson.

Last week, Trudeau had separate virtual meetings with the permanent representatives to the UN from eastern European countries, from Asia-Pacific countries and from Arab countries. Canada’s candidacy for the UNSC seat was the main item on the agenda for those calls. He also had one-on-one calls last week with the heads of government from Mozambique and Barbados and this week with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron. And while the readouts from those otherwise private calls are silent on any discussion specifically about the UNSC bid, the subject would mostly likely have come up in Trudeau’s chats with leaders.

And now, in a move that will likely to continue to boost Canada’s standing among the smaller countries that make up the vast majority of UNSC voters, Trudeau will co-convene a special high-level United Nations meeting Thursday to discuss some of the economic and financial problems smaller countries around the world are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the just the latest example of Canada trying to use its influence as an affluent middle power, as a member of the G7 and G20, to assist smaller powers. Government sources say Champagne has been on the phone multiple times since the pandemic struck offering advice and assistance to counterparts representing smaller powers who may not have the resources or know-how to cope with COVID-19.

“I do think that helpful fixing kind of stuff we’ve been trying to do as a country helps — and the consistent multilateralism,” Robertson said.

And for Trudeau, the pandemic has completely changed his motivation to win a seat on the council. When he became prime minister in 2015, Trudeau spoke about returning Canada’s foreign policy to Pearson’s day and, a la Pearson, a return to a focus on peacekeeper missions. Back then, the motivation for being on the Security Council was part and parcel of a vaguely expressed image of how the new Liberal government thought Canada should relate to the world. Pressed for specifics as to the value of a UNSC seat, Trudeau would often talk about advancing its climate change agenda and its international feminist foreign policy goals.the council. When he became prime minister in 2015, Trudeau spoke about returning Canada’s foreign policy to Pearson’s day and, a la Pearson, a return to a focus on peacekeeper missions. Back then, the motivation for being on the Security Council was part and parcel of a vaguely expressed image of how the new Liberal government thought Canada should relate to the world. Pressed for specifics as to the value of a UNSC seat, Trudeau would often talk about advancing its climate change agenda and its international feminist foreign policy goals.

Trudeau now sees the value to Canada of a two-year term on the UNSC in a much different light.

“I think when we reflect on the scale of this (COVID-19) crisis, many people have compared it to what happened 75 years ago around World War II,” Trudeau told reporters last week during one of his Rideau Cottage press conferences. “Well, in the years following World War II, we created a range of multilateral and multinational institutions like the (International Monetary Fund), like the World Bank, the Bretton Woods Institutions that helped the world over the following decades develop tremendous prosperity and opportunity for people right around the world.

“Seventy-five years later, we have another crisis that is comparable in scale to that Second World War, and I think there need to be real reflections on how we move forward as a world, how we update and adjust our various multilateral institutions to better respond to the world we’re becoming part of right now in a post-COVID era. Canada’s voice is going to be really important, as it was around the forming of the Bretton Woods Institutions, as it will be as we create a better, more prosperous, fairer world for everyone. And Canada having a voice at the UN Security Council will allow us to continue to be at the heart of those discussions as we move forward as a planet.”

Gone is any 2015 talk of peacekeeping. Indeed, data released by the UN itself last week shows that the number of Canadians on UN peacekeeping missions is now at a 60-year low. Trudeau may have talked up the value of peacekeeping six years ago, but his government has never been enthusiastic about putting Canadian troops into harm’s way overseas.

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And so, in its first kick at the council can since that failed 2010 vote, Canada is up against Norway and Ireland for the two slots reserved on the council for “western European and other states.” Within Canada’s diplomatic community, there is a general feeling that Norway is the most likely to succeed and may even be the closest thing to a lock in the murky world of UN politics. (Germany was thought to be a lock in the 2010 Germany-Canada-Portugal race but squeaked in with just one vote more than the required 127!) The race now between Ireland and Canada is, from Canada’s perspective, a toss-up.

Norway and Ireland have been campaigning for this vote for a decade and have already locked up support from dozens of countries. European Union countries, for example, are widely believed to have told Ireland that it can count on their support. Canada, having not started to really campaign until Trudeau became PM in 2015, is late and now must get countries to switch or, more likely, sew up second-ballot support.

“It’s quite possible that a country will promise their vote to one country and then we’ll vote for someone else because it’s a secret ballot. No one will ever know. So there is time for a charm offensive at that level,” said Chapnick. “The other reason that there’s time is that we deal with a lot of democracies when we’re making deals. And not every damn democratic government feels bound by an agreement made by previous democratic governments. So if the government changes over the five to 10 years leading up to his council election, it’s entirely possible that a vote promised to someone else becomes in play again as we go forward. So it never really is too late in this sort of campaign. But at the same time, you can never trust any assurance of support that you get.”

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And so, the personal, patient and enthusiastic intervention of the prime minister in these dying weeks could very well make the difference.

“I do think that are our end game is excellent. We are doing everything we should do. I think we’ve got a good shot at it,” Robertson said. “But it’s even more complicated this year because of COVID, and we’re just not sure.”

David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.

In Person G7 in USA…doubtful

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Despite pandemic, Trump muses about resuming plan for in-person G7 meetings

The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON — Suppose Donald Trump held a summit for the leaders of the world’s seven largest economies — and nobody came?

That remarkable prospect emerged Wednesday as the U.S. president mused on Twitter about resurrecting plans to host G7 leaders in person at Camp David next month, in spite of the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump, who rarely misses a chance these days to promote what he bills as the rapid return of American life before the virus, tweeted about holding the meeting on or near the original June 10-12 timeline at the famous presidential retreat an hour’s drive north of the U.S. capital.

“Now that our Country is ‘Transitioning back to Greatness,’ I am considering rescheduling the G7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, D.C., at the legendary Camp David,” Trump wrote.

“The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all — normalization!”

With the U.S. scheduled to play host to the annual G7 this year, the administration’s original plan to use the Trump-owned Doral golf resort in Miami was abandoned last fall after critics accused the president of seeking to profit off the meeting. Subsequent plans to convene at Camp David were thwarted by COVID-19, although the leaders did gather last month via videoconference.

Johanna Maska, a political communications consultant and CEO of the communications agency Global Situation Room, was serving as former president Barack Obama’s director of press advance the last time world leaders — known at the time as the G8, before the suspension of Russia — gathered at Camp David.

Trump’s motives for wanting to reconvene the summit in person may be entirely political, given the U.S. presidential election in November, but Maska said she believes he’s deadly serious about it.

“The thing is, by virtue of an in-person engagement, you can convey leadership that you can’t, you know, if you record a Zoom. It’s a very different dynamic,” she said.

“He wants to convey that we can open up. The problem is, he’s thinking that he shut down operations. The pandemic actually shut down operations, and we haven’t solved for the pandemic because we’ve lacked for global leadership.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked about the prospect Wednesday, said he supports the idea of G7 leaders spending time with each other, even on a virtual basis. He was noncommittal on the idea of meeting face-to-face.

“We’re going to need to keep talking about not just how we get through this COVID-19 pandemic, but how we restore the global economy to its rightful activities,” Trudeau said.

“We’ll certainly take a look at what the U.S. is proposing as host of the G7 to see what kind of measures will be in place to keep people safe, what kind of recommendations the experts are giving in terms of how that might function.”

That’s G7-speak for a hard ‘No,’ suggested Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who teaches foreign affairs at Carleton University and serves as a vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“He’s not going to be the one to pour water on it, because you want to keep the relationship in reasonable form, but when push comes to shove, I just don’t see any of the other leaders agreeing to it,” Robertson said.

“I think it has everything to do with domestic politics, and nothing to do with the international system except to further Trump’s electoral ambitions in November.”

Brett Bruen, a former Obama-era diplomat who is president and founder of the Global Situation Room agency, was blunt when asked if he thought an in-person meeting in June was feasible. “I don’t,” he said, “nor do I think many other leaders would come.”

Summits are carefully orchestrated, high-security affairs that involve not only countless law-enforcement and Secret Service personnel, as well as sprawling political entourages, but also sensitive and important government officials in addition to the leaders themselves, Maska said.

Along with Canada, the U.S., Germany, France and Japan, the G7 also comprises Italy, one of the European countries hardest hit by COVID-19, as well as the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent more than two weeks fending off the virus, including several days in intensive care. Tempting fate, she said, may not be high on their priority list.

“Those of us who have been told to shelter in place — we’re supposed to be just with our families, right? We’re supposed to be contained with our group of people,” Maska said.

“When your group of people are the people who lead the leading economies of the world, that’s very dangerous.”

COVID Effect on Canada and Global Affairs

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One of the few certainties of COVID-19 crisis is that things are going to change with China

Even before COVID, Trump was battling a trade war with China and the two countries fighting a ‘great power competition.’ So where does this leave Canada?

In the haze of uncertainty enveloping the globe, one thing is clear: the world’s relationship with China is set to change.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused China of fumbling its early response to the outbreak, endangering the world in the process, and the U.S. will be fast-tracking plans to remove global industrial supply chains from China. Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is setting aside billions to help its companies move production out of China. And Beijing is threatening a trade war with Australia, after the government in Canberra called for an inquiry into where COVID-19 originated.

Even before the COVID crisis, Trump was battling a trade war with China and the two countries have been fighting for supremacy over intellectual property and high-tech dominance, which the White House has called “a new era of great power competition.”

So where does this leave Canada among the turmoil?

The political arena has begun to reflect the new world

“That is the question that I think probably needs a royal commission,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “Or at least, premiers and provinces getting together with the kind of effort that we put into the last great seismic change in how we manage ourselves, which was free trade with the United States.”

With the COVID-19 outbreak magnifying and accelerating issues with China, the political arena has begun to reflect the new world.

Public opinion polls show people in the U.S. and Canada are more skeptical of China and, with the United States looking ahead to a fall election, Democratic candidate Joe Biden has been pillorying Trump for not being tough enough on Chinese missteps. Biden even released an attack ad last month that accused Trump of “rolling over for the Chinese” and “going soft on China” over the COVID crisis.

The campaign tough talk will surely heat up as the election approaches, meaning whoever wins the White House in November will be dealing with a new level of rhetorical hostility between the world’s top powers.

“We were one of the great beneficiaries of globalization. Trade has made our prosperity, but how do we manage now?” said Robertson. “I do think that it’s going to be different now. And I also think China is changing. They always feel that the West and the rest of the world will take advantage of them. Which is ironic because, of course, that’s exactly what Trump is saying.”

 Louis Huang holds a sign calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig outside a court hearing for Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on March 6, 2019. Lindsey Wasson/Reuters/File

In Canada, the Liberal government has largely held its tongue on China, in part due to delicate diplomatic situations like the imprisonment of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, which was widely seen as a response to Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou who is wanted in the U.S.

Such is Canada’s diplomatic dance with China that this week Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne refused to thank Taiwan by name for donating 500,000 masks to Canada. Taiwan maintains it is an independent nation despite China’s claim that it is a Chinese province.

Canada also needs billions of dollars worth of vital personal protective equipment for frontline health workers battling COVID-19, most of which is manufactured in China.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and candidates vying to replace him in the party’s leadership race have been loudly criticizing the Chinese regime, though. Peter MacKay this week called for an inquiry into whether information about the virus was falsified or deliberately withheld in China.

Another leadership candidate Erin O’Toole wrote in the National Post that “the world (is) on the brink of a new Cold War with another repressive communist regime, this time in China.”

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The changing diplomatic and economic world has some policy experts pushing drastic measures.

“We’re stuck between our first and third-largest trading partner. Obviously for geographical reasons and because our economy is so integrated with the U.S., we’re going to side with the United States in any geopolitical conflict with China,” said Sean Speer, a policy researcher and former economic adviser to Stephen Harper, in an interview. “But it’s pretty obvious that the United States is moving in the direction of more managed trade and a much more nationalistic agenda.”

Both Robertson and Speer argue that although Canadians may prefer the old consensus around free trade, the country will have to adapt to the new world. It seemed unthinkable, for example, that the U.S. would slap tariffs on Canadian steel exports until Trump did just that two years ago.

Speer teamed up with Robert Asselin, a former Trudeau adviser, and economist Royce Mendes to argue that Canada has to find a new way to compete in the global economy in a new report released by the Public Policy Forum, an Ottawa-based non-profit think tank.

The report calls for an unapologetic effort from government to help Canadian industries compete on a global scale.

We’re stuck between our first and third-largest trading partner

The best way to do this, the report argues, is to identify challenges and set about helping Canadians businesses conquer them. For example, the report argues that a wide-scale effort around building up the country’s public health system to deal with an ageing population or tackling climate change could be the focus of a new industrial strategy.

Rather than use direct subsidies to specific firms, which can encourage waste and corruption, Speer argues that government support should come in more indirect ways. For example, to support Canada’s burgeoning industry around security systems for autonomous vehicles.

“I think we have an idealistic view about the global marketplace. I think that needs to change. We need to prepare to be much more unapologetically pro-Canadian,” said Speer.

Although the report from the Public Policy Forum has a bipartisan flavour to it, there are also historical objections from both the right and left to this kind of policy, with the left worrying about handouts to corporations and the right worrying about meddling in the free market.

Economist Trevor Tombe said he can see a lot of upside to a coherent industrial strategy, especially compared to an incoherent patchwork of subsidies and grants, but also pointed out some potential downsides.

 A crew gets ready to unload medical supplies from a cargo transporter arriving from China at Mirabel Airport in Quebec, May 1, 2020. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

First, like with any government spending, policymakers have to consider the opportunity cost. Any money spent on this strategy could potentially be used for other services or tax reductions that Canadians may prefer.

“The second downside is that you may pick incorrectly and support a sector that actually does not have a competitive advantage in Canada and that exists solely because of the support,” said Tombe.

That makes it vital that any advantage bestowed by the government is temporary and is used solely to get an industry past some difficult stage of its development, Tombe said.

“But if we’re talking about permanent support to a sector that is uncompetitive in Canada, then that can actually hurt productivity by shifting resources away from things where we do actually have a comparative advantage,” he said.

In the interview with the Post, Speer pointed out that advantages in the new economy are increasingly man-made. In the resource economy, a comparative advantage comes from a massive forest or large oil reserves. In the new economy, countries tend to create these advantages, either intentionally or by happenstance. Silicon Valley, for example, was born from computer technology that came out of the United States space program.

“We should be unapologetic about trying to cultivate certain competitive advantages in the Canadian economy, recognizing the importance of bigness and scale,” said Speer.

China on UN Human Rights Council

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China on the UN Human Rights Council raises concern (interview)

With China now being appointed to the Human Rights Council and the ‘consultative group’ there is concern by several countries that human rights abuses will not be investigated or properly condemned.

China has itself has regularly been accused of abuse and this could now further increase concerns that the Council has become as politicized and ineffective as its predecessor.

Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat to China and to the U.N.

ListenCritics of China’s human rights record accuse the country of efforts to derail human rights resolutions whether directed at them or at others.

In July last year, 22 western nations signed a letter to the U.N about China’s arrests and incarceration of  Uyghurs, and dissenters. This was followed by a letter from 37 nations, including N. Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others, many of whom have human rights abuses of their own people with accusations of the ‘politicization’ of human rights issues and supporting China’s actions.

Robertson says this latest appointment is part of a systematic programme of the Chinese government to seek influential positions and influence wherever it can. This is to push their global strategy of expanding Chinese interests globally beyond current aspirations in the South and East China sea, limit international criticism, and extend their power.

In an email to RCI he also wrote “The UN is the global parliament and it reflects national interests. We had hoped after the fall of the Soviet Union that the liberal international order would become the norm for all but it has not and it was naive to think it would.  Russia and China see global affairs in traditional terms: as a concert of great powers each with their own spheres of influence with tributary and vassel nations within that sphere”.

He says it is unfortunate that the U.S has backed away as it leaves a vacuum and weakens the international concept of multilateralism and western ideals of ‘rule of law’.

With China now at the head of four of 15 specialized U.N. committees, there are concerns that China will not move towards a more westernized mindset, but that the world will be influenced more towards a Chinese mindset, which some critics have long said runs counter to western ideals. Germany’s foreign minister once said for example in  February 2018 at the Munich security conference, ““China is developing a comprehensive system alternative to the Western one, which, unlike, our model, is not based on freedom, democracy and individual human rights”.

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On Allan Gotlieb

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Gotlieb revolutionized Canadian diplomacy with our primordial partner

By COLIN ROBERTSON      
Allan Gotlieb died last week at the age of 92, but his insights into the U.S. and the value of public diplomacy continue to have application and relevance today.
Allan Gotlieb, pictured at Wilfrid’s at the Château Laurier Hotel in 2006 for an interview about his book, The Washington Diaries: 1981-1989, a national bestseller. He saw government as a powerful force for the good: generating and testing ideas and then applying them to practical purpose, writes Colin Robertson. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

The best of mandarins, as our ambassador to the United States, Allan Gotlieb revolutionized Canadian diplomacy with our primordial partner. His insights into the U.S. and the value of public diplomacy continue to have application and relevance.

His schooling set him up as a comer: as an undergraduate at Berkeley, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and then Harvard where he edited the Law Review. In 1957, Gotlieb joined what one of his Oxford tutors told him was the best foreign service in the world.

He developed a life-long appreciation of the importance of the rule of law in international relations, starting with his work on the Law of the Sea under the mentorship of our most accomplished lawyer-diplomats, Marcel Cadieux, who also served as our ambassador to the U.S.

International law, Gotlieb tutored me and fellow foreign service officers, is how middle and small powers level the field against the big powers. It didn’t always work—there is a trap door for the great powers—but for a country like Canada it should be the instinctual approach. It works best when we act in association with like-minded countries and Gotlieb told us never to discount our power as a convenor of nations. But if multilateralism didn’t succeed, then we should try bilateralism. He thought this especially important when dealing with the United States because while deepening integration made us more dependent, it also gave us certain advantages, if we were smart enough to use them.

While the Diaries record the detail, the Allan Gotlieb method is best described in a slim volume entitled I’ll Be With You In A Minute, Mr. Ambassador: The Education of a Canadian Diplomat in WashingtonThe Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

As a young foreign service officer, Gotlieb impressed then federal justice minister Pierre Trudeau. They shared sophistication, brilliance, and supreme self-confidence. Neither suffered fools. They could be abrasive. Empathy was not a strong suit. After Trudeau became prime minister, Gotlieb was promoted into the new generation of deputy ministers, serving in the freshly-minted Department of Communications (1968) and then at Manpower and Immigration (1973).

As a favour to professor Peyton Lyon, a fellow Winnipeger and former foreign service officer, Gotlieb spoke to my class at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I can still see his cigar—autre temps, autre moeurs—punctuating his points about our open immigration system and how attracting those with the talents we needed served Canadian interests. If geography was destiny so was demography and we could shape it through public policy. He saw government as a powerful force for the good: generating and testing ideas and then applying them to practical purpose.

For Gotlieb, policy coherence was vital. So was policy coordination. Returning in 1976 to the Department of External Affairs as its undersecretary, Gotlieb determined to give it a central role in developing Canadian policy. This meant making External Affairs a central agency, the equal of the Department of Finance, Treasury Board Secretariat and Privy Council Office. Rather than run programs—it had very little discretionary funds—External Affairs would coordinate Canada’s international policies using its brain-power and the intelligence of its missions abroad. We were encouraged to offer dissenting perspectives, often published publicly in International Perspectives. Gotlieb led by example and I still remember a trenchant piece on the Third Option that he penned with Jeremy Kinsman (whose own tribute to Gotlieb should be read).

Gotlieb set about consolidating the foreign service. Lacking authority and budget, the department could not control, but it could better coordinate activities abroad if Canada was to punch its weight internationally. First, under its orbit came the trade commissioners followed by the immigration officers. It would take another 20-plus years before development and its big budget would join what is now Global Affairs Canada.

Allan Gotlieb’s eight-year tenure as Canada’s ambassador in Washington, D.C., between 1981 and 1989 was marked by two main trademarks: an ambitious and activist public diplomacy and an activist strategic outreach to Congress. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Raising the foreign ministry to central agency status was the right one. Yet it failed to take. There was bureaucratic resistance to ceding turf and his successor as deputy minister did not share the Gotlieb vision.

More successful and more enduring was Gotlieb’s reform to how we do business in Washington. His eight-year tenure as ambassador between 1981 and 1989 was marked by two main trademarks: an ambitious and activist public diplomacy and an activist strategic outreach to Congress. Both were vital to achieving the 1989 Free Trade Agreement and then, after he left, the 1991 Acid Rain Accord. Carried forward by his successors, this blueprint continues to deliver results for Canada.

Gotlieb and his wife Sondra figured out how Washington worked. An invitation to their Rock Creek residence was a guarantee of powerful people and consequential conversations. His Washington Diaries published in 2006 describes, for example, visits by secretary of state George Shultz and his wife who would come and relax while watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. Gotlieb also secured the prized location that our embassy enjoys on Pennsylvania Avenue and beat back the bean-counters and worry-warts who thought the Arthur Erickson-designed embassy was too grand. Cultural diplomacy was a major piece of his public diplomacy and the embassy was outfitted with both a gallery and a theatre that we used with effect.

While the Diaries record the detail, the Gotlieb method is best described in a slim volume entitled I’ll Be With You In A Minute, Mr. Ambassador: The Education of a Canadian Diplomat in Washington. It contains the Gotlieb “decalogue” for the conduct of the “new diplomacy” in Washington. It continues to be relevant, if not prescient:

  1. The particular process by which a decision is reached in Washington is often so complex and mysterious that it defies comprehension.
  2. The most important requirement for effective diplomacy in Washington is the ability to gain access to the participants in the decision-making process.
  3. Given the vast numbers of players in the field of decision-making, and the great difficulty of predicting their likely behavior, the highest possible premium must be placed on political intelligence.
  4. Since there are so many participants in decision-making, so many special-interest and pressure groups and so many shifting alliances, a diplomat cannot design any grand or overarching strategy to further his nation’s interests. Every issue involves its own micro-strategy and every micro-strategy is unique.
  5. In Washington, a foreign power is itself just another special interest and not a very special one at that.
  6. A foreign power, as a general rule, has no permanent friends or adversaries on Capitol Hill.
  7. A foreign power, as a general rule, has no permanent friends or adversaries within the Administration.
  8. No permanent solutions are within reach of the ambassador or his government, only temporary ones. Instability is the norm, alliances and coalitions are always being forged, forces and counterforces are always mounting.
  9. Effective diplomacy means public diplomacy. The line between public diplomacy and interference in local affairs is a thin one and thus it must be practiced with considerable finesse.
  10. The best and often the only way to gain access to all the key players is through the social route. In Washington, parties are a continuation of work by other means.

Allan Gotlieb taught me many things: about policy and personalities, about public and cultural diplomacy. I benefited from his generous introductions to those in his remarkable network. He taught me about the United States and our conversations would inevitably come back to his belief that our success internationally would always hinge on our understanding of the Great Republic. “The U.S.A.,” he would remind me, “is more than a country, it’s a civilization.” Americans were always interested in our insights about the rest of the world and this gave us leverage and the potential to influence, both in Washington and foreign capitals. Foreign countries were just as interested in our interpretation of the U.S. assuming that, because we were like them, we had special insight.

One lesson that served me especially well came when I travelled to St. John’s with him and Sondra shortly after his appointment to Washington. It was a conventional program, including a meeting with the premier that revolved around a day-long conference at Memorial University.

But after we’d met the notables, Gotlieb informed me that  “conferences were like smorgasbord—you sample a bit here and there.” One could always later read the prepared remarks, most of which were inevitably badly read. The real value of conferences, he told me, is the networking “so be there for the breaks.” Diplomacy was about getting to know people and place. To get a “feel of a place,” continued Gotlieb, you had to get out and see it for yourself.

So we played hooky and toured St. John’s—the galleries, the port, Signal Hill, the cathedral and the basilica. There were impromptu meetings with the justice minister, the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union and the editor of The Telegram. The day rounded off with an evening that included John and Jane Crosbie. That was the Gotlieb way. It served Canada well.

Trump says no face masks for Canada

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‘The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal’: Trump’s threats undermine Canada-U.S. relationship, says former envoy

By NEIL MOSS      
‘We are dealing with an administration that is both very unpredictable, very much America first, [and] not long-term thinking in terms of its relationship with its allies,’ says former diplomat Michael Kergin.
Former U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman, left, says there will be a necessary healing process in the Canada-U.S. relationship due to the damage done by American President Donald Trump. The Hill Times file photograph and photograph courtesy of the White House/Flickr

The Trump administration’s threat to withhold critical medical infrastructure has angered Canadians and may have deepened an already open wound in the Canada-U.S relationship, as politicos say the federal government needs to find alternate avenues to protect Canada’s most important alliance.

Following a weekend of uncertainty over whether Ontario hospitals would receive much needed respirator masks, 3M came to an agreement with the White House on April 6 to allow those masks to be shipped across the Canada-U.S. border.

Before the agreement was reached, Ontario Premier Doug Ford lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump for his initial decision to restrict the export of the masks.

It was the second idea floated by the Trump administration to receive rebuke from Canadian officials. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) said last month that the reported U.S. proposal to send troops to the Canada-U.S. border was “an entirely unnecessary step” and Canada would view such a move as “damaging to our relationship.” In the end, the U.S. backed down on the idea.

Obama-era U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman, who was posted to Ottawa from 2014 to 2017, compared damage to the Canada-U.S. relationship to a wound.

“The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal,” he told The Hill Times prior to the announcement that the 3M masks would be allowed to be exported.

“[Mr. Trump] is working his way to making deeper wounds with our allies,” including with Canada, he said. “There will be repair that is necessary.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on April 7 that the Canadian government continues to emphasize to the Trump administration the interconnectivity of Canada-U.S. health-care services and supply chains. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“You earn trust over time, you can lose trust very fast. … It takes a significant amount of time to gain it back once lost. So trust is the basis of the relationship and that’s been under threat with this president.”

Asked if the agreement between 3M and the White House was a full or one-time exemption to export restrictions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said on April 7 that his government continues to work with the Americans.

“We’re going to continue to highlight to the American administration the point at which health-care supplies and services go back and forth across that border,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.) told The Hill Times that there has been an underlying feeling among Canadians of “anger and frustration” towards the U.S. government.

Mr. Easter, who is co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group (IPG), said the pandemic proves the importance of building relationships in Washington beyond the White House, as well as at the state level.

“On the Canada-U.S. IPG, we just all work strenuously to ensure that things don’t deteriorate and get out of hand as a result of some of the decisions that come out of the White House from time to time,” said Mr. Easter, who on April 3 spoke with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee and the second-highest ranking Senator as the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate.

While that conversation was meant to be about discussing the economic conditions brought on by the pandemic, Mr. Easter said the two talked about ensuring their respective governments don’t make decisions that are detrimental to the other through “a knee-jerk reaction rather than something well thought out.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, who sat on the international trade deputy minister’s NAFTA advisory council, said Canada has learned lessons on how to deal with the Trump administration: namely, to work around it.

He said during previous times of friction between the Trudeau and Trump governments during the NAFTA renegotiations, Canada put emphasis on outreach to governors and legislators at the federal and state levels, as well as business and labour interests, adding that Ms. Freeland was one of the architects of that strategy.

“She knows who to call. The Rolodex is there and we can pick up the phone. These are always what you want to have in an emergency. You don’t want to be meeting people or talking to people for the first time. And I think we have really embedded ourselves much more deeply into the United States as a result of the renegotiations of the economic agreement,” he said.

Conservative MP Colin Carrie (Oshawa, Ont.), his party’s critic on Canada-U.S. relations and a member of the Canada-U.S. IPG’s executive, said the pandemic is certain to put pressure on the bilateral relationship.

“Canada and the United States have been best friends, neighbours, and allies for the majority of our existence. The stress of fighting this pandemic would strain even the best relationships as governments scramble to save the lives of their most vulnerable,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think efforts to curb the virus would lead to long-term damage in the relationship, but instead to stronger ties as the two countries seek “common solutions.”

Mr. Carrie noted that the past uncertainty over the 3M shipment should serve as a sign that Canada needs a certain level of domestic production for its own vital equipment, adding that Canada should be negotiating with the U.S. for a reciprocal agreement for critical medical items.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, right, is pictured speaking with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley in 2017. Photograph courtesy of Twitter

Former diplomat Michael Kergin, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 2000 to 2005, said the threats are more of the same that have been levied at Canada since Mr. Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

“We recognize that we are dealing with an administration that is both very unpredictable, very much America first, [and] not long-term thinking in terms of its relationship with its allies,” he said.

The list includes the threat to suspend NAFTA, which prompted renegotiations of the pact, as well as personal attacks lobbed at Mr. Trudeau. Angered by Mr. Trudeau’s statements at a 2018 press conference following the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., Mr. Trump called the Canadian prime minister: “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak.” Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, later took to U.S. cable news to say there was a “special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out of the door.”

Whether Mr. Trump’s rhetoric will have a long-term impact on the Canada-U.S. relationship remains to be seen.

“I think if Trump is re-elected, there is a chance that things could become a little more scratchy and problematic,” said Mr. Kergin, adding that Mr. Trump has been replacing the people in Washington that understand the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship and the long-term interest that the U.S. has in managing it.

But Mr. Kergin said the strong safety net in the relationship is still present at the local and state levels, as well as with business and academic interests.

Carleton University international affairs professor Fen Osler Hampson said Mr. Trump’s protectionist ideas shouldn’t have come as a big surprise for Canada.

“I think it’s fair to say that we always have to look out for our own interests. The Americans aren’t going to be looking out for them,” said Prof. Hampson, who authored the soon-to-be-released book, Braver Canada, with Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., which calls for further economic diversification away from the United States.

“It’s the new abnormal,” he said. “You’ve got to be constantly on guard for surprises, uncertainty, drastic shocks, and that means being nimble, being adept, being smart.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin, who was appointed to the role by U.S. President Bill Clinton and served in the post from 1997 to 2001, said the things that are being done in current circumstances are not representative of the relationship as a whole.

“I think the relationship is reasonably solid,” he said, noting though that the U.S. is still without an ambassador in Ottawa who could help prevent some issues in the relationship from coming to the surface.

“When we get our new ambassador there, that’ll help.”

Aldona Wos has been named the U.S.’s next ambassador to Canada, but she has yet to be confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate. Previous ambassador Kelly Craft left the role last fall to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Canada a casualty of U.S.’s underprepared pandemic response, says former ambassador

“[At one point] I was with President Obama in the White House,” recalled Mr. Heyman, “and he said, ‘Do you know what keeps me up at night?’ He said: ‘a global pandemic.’”

“That’s not what I expected, but I will never forget that conversation. I especially won’t forget it now,” the former diplomat said.

Mr. Heyman said the current U.S. president “lost precious time” to curb the virus with an international partnership when he didn’t take the threat of the virus as seriously as he should have when his intelligence advisers first alerted him to the threat.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that U.S. officials had warned senior Trump administration officials in January that the pandemic could put millions of Americans at risk.

“Had [Mr. Trump] done the work in advance then we would have had plenty of masks to go around for all the people who needed it, on both sides of our border,” Mr. Heyman said.

Along with the lack of preparedness, Mr. Robertson said, Canada has also been a casualty of Mr. Trump’s America First policies, adding that he didn’t think any previous U.S. president would threaten to withhold the masks from Canada.

“It doesn’t matter what administration—Carter, Ford, Nixon, Clinton, Regan—they all saw the value of alliances and the importance of keeping the allies a part of the alliance,” he said. “Trump just doesn’t recognize that.”

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

PRIMER

by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice-President and Fellow
March 2020

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Table of Contents


Introduction

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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).

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Resources

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.

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