THe Budget and Foreign Affairs

FroPruning and Clipping at Foreign AFfairs in the Ottawa Citizen, April5,2012

Diplomacy, according to former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, is like gardening. It requires continuing effort and perseverance and, on occasion, pruning and clipping.

Foreign Affairs, like the rest of government, has come under the knife. The recent budget promises to sell some official residences, extend time diplomats spend abroad, review their allowances, cut back on cars and examine Canada’s membership in some international organizations to see that we are getting value for money.

In doing so, we follow the lead of most other western governments. Internationally sanctioned stimulus having saved us from the calamities of economic depression, we now retrench public spending.

As in the past, there is fear and consternation about what this means for Canada’s international presence and our diplomats.

We are a people that derive a good part of what it means to be Canadian from our actions abroad. This is natural enough, especially in a country that celebrates the value of immigration and practices a pluralism that is the envy of the world.

So let’s look at the threatened cuts. Selling some residences could generate $80 million. But that choice must be made wisely, as a residence is an important diplomatic tool.

Taking inspiration from the playbook of Allan and Sondra Gotlieb, during the four years I was consul general in Los Angeles, we hosted more than 300 events at our official residence (compared to just one at our downtown office).

Most of our activity was in support of Canada’s film, television and music industry, usually in collaboration with provincial governments. Entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry for Canada that we constantly strove to support. For example, in 2004, working with our Quebec colleagues, our campaign helped to deliver Canada’s first foreign language film Oscar for Denys Arcand’s Les invasions barbares. Our Canada Day celebrations focused on a province and helped their products into the Southwest U.S.

Selling the residence in Los Angeles would make no sense but recent audits reveal few residences get as much use. Decisions to sell need to be made on a case-by-case basis, mindful that we have a poor record of reinvestment.

Similarly, closing missions leaves a long-term bad taste in host countries. Far better to preserve a footprint. Keeping Canadian ears, eyes and a voice around the world is critical to our place in the world and, importantly, gives us standing in Washington.

Extending the length of diplomatic postings abroad will save the government money and, in most cases, is a good thing. It takes about a year and a half in situ — developing contacts and getting the lay of the land — before a diplomat is truly effective.

Diplomacy is about serving the national interest. Let’s remind ourselves what diplomats do abroad. They prospect for business, trade and investment; recruit immigrants, tourists and students; and in terms of peace and security, as Churchill observed “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

The last decade in the Foreign Service has been difficult. The divorce and then remarriage of trade and foreign affairs was followed by a series of so-called “transformations” that put process ahead of policy development and delivery. Bulking up on bean-counters and senior management at headquarters in the post-Gomery wave of accountability did not advance our diplomatic game. You don’t do diplomacy out of your basement, as Jean Chrétien once astutely observed. An entertainment budget is another important tool for doing business.

Throwing public diplomacy under the bus was unforgivable and the senior bureaucrats of that period have much to answer for in terms of speaking “truth to power.” Where once we led, today we are behind in our application of public diplomacy.

Globalization is obliging diplomats and diplomacy to adapt and re-examine how they do business. The contemporary diplomat is equally comfortable in jeans relying on a laptop and GPS-equipped BlackBerry, as Daryl Copeland has observed in Guerrilla Diplomacy.

Let’s use this budget as an opportunity to review our Foreign Service: its objectives and conditions of service. It has been 30 years and, in terms of technology, another era since the McDougall Commission looked at our diplomats.

In John Baird, we have our most activist foreign minister in a generation and he reflects Canadian values when he speaks about human rights and religious freedom. He has the confidence of a prime minister committed to making “Canada a meaningful contributor in the world.”

We have dozens of trade negotiations in play to open doors for Canadian business. We are rightly re-examining our aid policies recognizing that a job is more important than a handout and that security and good governance are essential to economic development.

To do this work requires a diplomatic service that is at the top of its game. Diplomatic practice is about the hard language of priorities, set against resources. It means trade-offs, and a recognition of limitations. Clipping and pruning are as much a part of diplomacy as seeding and planting.

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Canada and the Americas

Americas strategy? It takes three to tango

colin robertson From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail Apr. 03, 2012

Our size and global placement give Canadians multiple perspectives as we compete in the international market. But these advantages too often distract us, at a time when we need to focus and follow-through.

History and early trading patterns make us an Atlantic nation. With half of all new Canadians coming from Asia, we now have a Pacific outlook that we embrace. Our climate is a constant reminder that we’re also a northern country, and the Harper government has made the Arctic a priority.

As we were reminded by Monday’s trilateral summit in Washington, we are also a nation of the Americas. Our propinquity to the United States has always been a challenge – initially around security, then through cultural seduction – as well as an economic opportunity promised by the world’s biggest market.

For most of our history, with the exception of the Commonwealth Caribbean relationships, we avoided our neighbours south of the Rio Grande. It was a Latin land of dictators and revolutions. Besides, since the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. had staked its hegemony.

NAFTA gave us a serious relationship with Mexico but, as Monday’s summit illustrated, we continue to be a somewhat reluctant partner.

Taking advantage of our shared continent is a good idea, but it requires vision and boldness if we’re to realize the advantage of resources, market and labour. For now, trilateralism is on life support.

As we saw again Monday, these meetings are essentially “dual bilaterals” between Mexico and the U.S. and then, time permitting, between Canada and the U.S. We have to await the outcome of this year’s elections in Mexico and the U.S. before we can revive the North American idea.

Mexico deserves our support in combatting the drug menace as well as in developing its institutions. If we can wage war in Afghanistan and Libya, then surely we can lend a helping hand in our neighbourhood.

We also have increasing commercial interests. The World Bank says Mexico is the easiest place in Latin America to run a business and, by mid-century, Goldman Sachs reckons the country will be the world’s fifth-largest economy, bigger than that of Germany, Russia and Japan.

Meantime, we should be doing useful continental planning around our shared infrastructure – roads and rail, electrical grids and pipelines and at our gateways. And as soon as we fix our made-in-Canada refugee problem, let’s lift the visa for Mexicans.

With the exception of our ongoing commitment to Haiti, Canadian efforts toward the rest of the Americas have been characterized by quixotic spasms of tango-like embrace – joining the Organization of American States and committing to the now-moribund Free Trade Area of the Americas – followed by a long siesta.

The Harper government developed an Americas strategy with an emphasis on democratic governance, prosperity and security. We’ve made progress through a series of boutique trade agreements, but the grand strategy has been slow to take shape. As we approach this month’s Summit of the Americas, it’s ready for a “reset.”

It takes two to tango, and Latin American governments share responsibility for not taking advantage of Canadian interest and opportunities. During Stephen Harper’s visit to Brazil last year, he promised to be ambitious, saying that, for “too long a time we neglected relations. … Too much grass grows in the cracks on the road between out two great countries.”

Ambition is important. But so is perseverance.

Mr. Harper will need to devote more time and energy if we’re to demonstrate that there are more steps in our dance repertoire. The Canadian business community is engaged. Our mining companies are especially active, and our banks have long had a presence in the Caribbean that has since expanded, notably into Mexico.

Business can be a driving force for taking the relationship to the next level. Twenty years of freer trade has given Canadian companies experience and confidence that they can compete on the wider world stage. As we have learned in Asia, however, our commercial interests are advanced when ministers are there to show the flag.

For Canadians, the U.S. market and relationship will always remain No. 1, and we can take some comfort from Barack Obama’s promise on Monday to make the border “faster and cheaper to travel and trade.”

But the slow economic recovery increases the likelihood of renewed protectionism. Even when it’s not aimed at Canada, we are always at risk through collateral damage. It’s why, while we need always to keep our focus on the U.S., we should look to other markets in the Americas, starting with Mexico. And if we’re to keep the grass from growing back in the cracks, we need a good plan, perseverance and senior political level follow-through.

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Leaders Announce Trade Measures

Leaders announce measure on trade
Scotty Greenwood of McKenna, Long Aldridge, and Colin Robertson a former Canadian diplomat in Washington discuss Canada’s complicated trade relationship with Paula Newton on CTV Powerplay.

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Trilateral Summit in Washington

From Ipolitics April 2, 2012:  The North American idea

by Colin Robertson,

When Barack Obama welcomes Stephen Harper and Felipe Calderon into the Oval Office on Monday, the leaders will smile and the cameras will click.

But will there be anything more to report than the usual bromides about the need for greater cooperation and collaboration at this latest iteration of the three amigos?

Probably not.

Sadly, the idea of closer economic integration creating an uber-North America — effectively a customs union between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico that would marry resources, labour and market — is on life-support.

For Stephen Harper, the first priority is on making the Canada-U.S. border more accessible, while enthusiastically embracing a ‘Trade R Us’ approach through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal with the European Union and a smorgasbord of bilateral agreements. For Barack Obama, the priority is on creating jobs against what is shaping up as another polarizing election. For Felipe Calderon, the focus continues to be on battling the drug cartels. Calderon is in his last months as president and the July election will likely see the defeat of his party and the return of the long dominant establishment PRI.

Since NAFTA, the continental association has seldom gone beyond a pleasant conversation on aspirations, with a couple of notable exceptions including pandemic planning in the wake of H1N1 or, as it was initially known, the Mexican swine flu. Unfortunately, the substance of the ‘trilateral’ summits quickly descends first into the U.S. relationship with Mexico, because Mexican issues are top of mind for the American president, and then, time permitting, the U.S. relationship with Canada.

This dual bilateralism has left Canadian practitioners with the view that Canadian interests are better advanced dealing directly with the United States. They are mostly right although, as we’re learning yet again in the latest initiative to expedite border access, if getting the framework agreement is difficult, achieving measurable results is an even bigger hurdle. It requires consistent effort and continuing high-level instruction to shift a post 9-11 bureaucratic mindset that has still to understand that you can have both secure frontiers and economic integration.

NAFTA, the anchor for trilateralism, has never enjoyed the popular acclaim that it deserves.

Canada was initially a reluctant partner – we signed on for reasons similar to what is taking us into the Trans-Pacific Partnership – so as to avoid becoming a spoke in the American hub.

For the Americans, the decision was strategic: give Mexico a hand-up that would create jobs, a market and keep Mexican migrants at home. It worked, but only to a degree. Many of the maquiladoras that initially sprung up across the U.S. border have long since been dismantled and reassembled in China. Mexico’s northern states are now a war zone. In the USA, NAFTA has become a synonym for job loss and outsourcing.

It’s too bad because NAFTA did what was intended for all three partners. From 1994-2001, NAFTA trade tripled and foreign investment quintupled among the partners. Intra-regional trade accounted for 46 per cent of the three amigos international trade — up from 36 per cent in 1988.

Then came 9-11.

America reasserted its borders and a combination of the rise of China, slowing economies and the existential war with the cartels saw intra-regional trade slide back towards its pre-NAFTA levels.

At Waco in 2005, George W. Bush tried to revive the trilateral idea with the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). But the SPP suffered from too many little objectives (over 400) without focus or political will. While the North American Competitiveness Council did good work, its pro-business orientation made it an anathema to the new Obama regime and the SPP process petered out.

It’s too bad because a key feature of globalization is the successful development of intra-regional trade – Europe showed the way and now Asia and Latin America are following suit. With labour, resources and the biggest market in the world, North America is well placed.

But it requires a willingness to look at the kind of bold ideas outlined in Robert Pastor’s vision of a continental future, The North American Idea (2011). A tireless champion of the North American idea, Pastor makes a solid argument for a customs union involving labor mobility and coordinated infrastructure, with a special focus on energy and transportation.

The energy dimension is further explored by the Peterson Institute’s Jeff Schott and Meera Frickling. In their useful NAFTAand Climate Change (2011), they recommend harmonized renewable energy standards, regional cap-and-trade regimes, and a coordinated mapping of carbon capture and storage sites.

The ideas are there. So is the potential for growth.

Canadians are well aware of the importance of the U.S. market, but we sometimes forget that Mexico is more than a cheap winter holiday. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation’s Doing Business 2011 report declared this NAFTA partner as the easiest place in Latin America to run a company. The International Monetary Fund says Mexico’s economic growth will eclipse that of the U.S. and Canada from now until 2015, and Goldman Sachs predicts that in 40 years Mexico will be the world’s fifth-largest economy — bigger than Russia, Japan or Germany.

Canadian companies, like Bombardier, RIM and Magna, already have a significant manufacturing presence in Mexico as part of their North American supply chain. Walk down any main street in Mexico City and you are likely to see the red and white signature of Scotiabank, now Mexico’s sixth largest retail bank.

We have opportunities in Mexico and a useful outcome of today’s meeting would be an announcement that we are lifting the visa requirement for Mexicans that was clumsily imposed in July 2009. Designed to assuage our refugee determination system, a made-in-Canada problem, it has since been corrected by legislation.

Alas, in current circumstances there is neither the political will nor popular support for the North American idea. This is why at today’s trilateral summit we should not expect much beyond a photo and aspirational declarations of good intentions.

But, after a two year hiatus, that it is even happening at all is cause for cheer. While we await more propitious circumstances, the North American idea remains alive.

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