NAFTA Negotiaions

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Colin Robertson was also on CGTN to give the Canadian perspective on how NAFTA renegotiation may turn out:

You can watch that interview Here.

Colin Robertson joined CTV News Network to give commentary on the first round of NAFTA talks:

You can watch that interview Here.

Provincial News

Support within U.S. key to successful NAFTA renegotiation

  • Corwyn Friesen, mySteinbach
  • Posted on 08/21/2017 at 11:00 am

The Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says strong American support for NAFTA, particularly within the agricultural community, will play an important role in the renegotiation of agreement.

Canadian, U,S. and Mexican negotiators completed the first round of talks yesterday aimed at revamping North American Free Trade Agreement.

Colin Robertson, the Vice President and a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says strong support within the United States for the agreement will be an important factor.

What ever agreement that the Trump Administration negotiates will be subject to an up or down vote in the American Congress, in the House of Representatives and the Senate so it is important for us and we have made a sustained effort along with the Mexicans over the past six months to remind Americans at the local level why trade with Canada works for Americans.

We start of with what is Mr. Trump’s principal objective and that’s to create jobs. We point out that the Canada, United States, Mexico agreement accounts for roughly 14 million jobs in the United States. The trade with Canada and Mexico makes that possible.

Most Americans have not appreciated that fact but now we’re reminding them on a kind of daily basis and certainty we use every occasion when a minister or a legislator or a premier and this has been an all of Canada effort to do so. It’s not just been the federal government ministers that have been going down to the United States.

It’s been also Premiers, provincial legislators, business persons and those in the farm community for example have been very diligent over the last few years in working the various farm bureaus and going to state fairs just to remind them that trade with Canada creates wealth and jobs in the United States.

~ Colin Robertson, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Robertson observes we have had a very good response from the Americans. He notes the Governor of Nebraska, during a recent visit to Canada, pointed out Canada is the number one export market for 35 American states.

NAFTA Talks Begin

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Former Canadian diplomat: We shouldn’t be under the impression that NAFTA talks will be easy

Colin Robertson, who is VP & Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a former Canadian diplomat, and was a member of the team that negotiated the first NAFTA deal, joins BNN to provide his perspective as NAFTA talks begin.

Nafta Talks Open With Spat Over How to Resolve Tariff Conflicts

By Paul Vieira in Ottawa, William Mauldin in Washington and Anthony Harrup in Mexico City Features Dow Jones Newswires

Talks to remake the North American Free Trade Agreement are starting off today with an early dispute — over how to settle disputes.

Under Nafta, the U.S., Mexico and Canada have resolved tariff conflicts by submitting them to expert panels that can sustain or overturn tariffs. The system has helped guide the trilateral relationship for 23 years.

Now the U.S. wants to do away with those dispute-resolution panels, while Canada is digging in on its insistence that they are a crucial tool for Canadian firms to use to fight tariffs imposed by its powerful southern neighbor. Mexican senators have also called for retaining the mechanism.

Though the system for resolving tariff disputes is only one of many issues that U.S. officials are expected to put on the table in the talks that begin Wednesday in Washington, it is a particularly divisive one. For President Donald Trump, the panels’ power to overturn tariffs strikes at the heart of his “America First” trade policy and his campaign’s spirited defense of measures to protect U.S. industries against what he sees as unfair trade practices.

“This first session could be quite confrontational,” said Fred Bergsten, founder of the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington and a member of the U.S. advisory panel for trade negotiations. He expects the U.S. to put the issue on the negotiating table early in the process.

Without Chapter 19 — the portion of Nafta that creates the panels — disputes over tariffs would end up in national courts or before the World Trade Organization, a body the administration also views with skepticism.

The divide is worrying to business groups that want to ensure the talks stay on course. Major changes to Nafta have to be approved by all three countries’ leadership, plus their legislators. Business lobbyists and former trade officials say gridlock could lead to renewed threats from member countries to pull out of the deal or feed political opposition during election seasons.

The opening bids suggest a compromise won’t be easy.

“Canada absolutely stands very firm in the importance of having such a mechanism,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week as she unveiled the country’s objectives ahead of the Nafta talks.

Similarly, Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the current system provides a deterrent against the improper use of duties. Dismantling it could end up hurting exporters in all three countries, he told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.

A U.S. trade official told reporters Tuesday that Washington plans to “be quite ambitious in this first round.”

One question is whether the early rhetoric will give way to compromise once the give and take of the negotiations begin. Trade negotiations are all about compromise, and Chapter 19 could end up being a bargaining chip in a broader set of concessions each side seeks.

“Everything that’s released publicly is a negotiating position,” said Celeste Drake, a senior expert at the AFL-CIO, the biggest U.S. labor federation. “There is always a middle ground if negotiators are willing to work.”

U.S. labor groups tend to oppose Chapter 19, saying tariffs levied on the grounds of alleged dumping or subsidies can be challenged in the court system or through the WTO. Ms. Drake said the Trump administration should press hard to resolve differences with the other governments to achieve the best deal for workers.

Stephen Powell, a former senior counsel at the Commerce Department who has written extensively on the dispute-resolution process, said given the historical importance Canada places on Chapter 19, it would likely demand a “very large concession” for abandoning the system. “Canada can certainly insist on something very big, so can Mexico,” Mr. Powell said.

But for Mr. Trump and U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, Chapter 19 symbolizes an erosion of sovereignty, since the panels have primarily been used to overturn tariffs imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department on Canadian and Mexican products. The issue is of particular note to Mr. Lighthizer, who spent about three decades as a Washington trade lawyer arguing for the types of tariffs that can be overturned under Chapter 19.

Mr. Lighthizer’s office in July left flexibility in most of its official objectives for Nafta talks, but it said clearly in the trade remedy section that it wanted to “eliminate the Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism.”

The third-party dispute system dates back to 1987, when President Ronald Reagan granted Canada’s demands for an independent resolution mechanism to salvage the U.S.-Canada free-trade pact, Nafta’s predecessor. The issue threatened to become a deal breaker 30 years ago, and it took the intervention of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. Treasury Secretary James Baker to get resolved.

Colin Robertson, a Canadian negotiator at those 1987 talks, said Canada’s business community pushed for independent panels after years of amassing large legal bills unsuccessfully fighting U.S. trade sanctions in the American courts.

Since coming into force, nearly 150 Chapter 19 cases have been adjudicated, two-thirds of which were brought by either Canada or Mexico against the Commerce Department.

The rate at which countries are filing Chapter 19 cases has recently slowed, with panels having dealt with just over a dozen cases since 2010. Trade watchers say the falloff in cases stems in part from the greater U.S. focus on trade cases involving China, and illustrates how Nafta has ushered in greater integration across the North American economy, with firms owning assets in each of the three countries. “There’s no us versus them any more,” said Peter Glossop, trade lawyer with Toronto firm Osler Hoskin & Harcourt.

Canada hasn’t always had clear-cut wins in Chapter 19 cases, but some — most notably dealing with the decadeslong spat over lumber — have gone its way. Ottawa’s most recent win was in April, when an independent panel directed the U.S. Commerce Department to roll back the bulk of a proposed 20% tariff on a type of glossy magazine paper made by a mill in the Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia. The U.S. claimed the mill unfairly benefited from power rates set by the province’s regulator, but the panel found that the U.S. offered little evidence to support its case.

“We certainly knew that with Chapter 19, all of the facts would be addressed by an independent panel…in a more fair manner,” said Marc Dubé, a senior manager at Port Hawkesbury Paper, the mill that faced the 20% duty.

Write to Paul Vieira at, William Mauldin at and Anthony Harrup at - news, features, articles and disease information for the poultry industry

As NAFTA Renegotiation Begins, Canada Feels Optimistic

17 August 2017

Manitoba Pork Council

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CANADA – The Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says, with the renegotiation of NAFTA now underway, there’s good reason for Canadians to be optimistic, Bruce Cochrane reports.

The first round of negotiations aimed at renewing the North American Free Trade Agreement kicked off yesterday in Washington.

Colin Robertson, the Vice President and a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the fact that Canada is actually at the table is cause for optimism.

Colin Robertson-Canadian Global Affairs Institute

President Trump, running as candidate Trump, declared on many occasions that NAFTA was the worst trade deal ever negotiated and that on his first day in office he would tear it up.

He did, on his first day in office, shelve the Trans-Pacific Partnership which effectively was an updating of the NAFTA but done with 12 countries including Canada, Mexico and the United States.

But the NAFTA, I think there was serious consideration to indeed tearing it up, giving notice and it would have taken six months for the United States to pull out but, particularly the farm community in the United States, protested, came back and said look this is working for us.

We’re selling a lot of our produce to Canada and to Mexico so do no harm please.

I think that’s what helped persuade President Trump to renegotiate the agreement.

He has said that he has had conversations with both Prime Minister Trudeau and President Pena Nieto of Mexico.

As well there was opposition from both sides of the aisles up in Congress.

And, of course, to proceed into the renegotiation, he has had to seek the permission of Congress through the Trade Promotion Authority so we have a pretty clear sense of what the Americans are looking for.

The United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer submitted a list of objectives to Congress about a month ago and then, when he and his colleagues, Chrystia Freeland and Ildefonso Guajardo, the Mexican Trade Minister, opened the negotiations they spelled out what they were looking for as well.

Mr Robertson is confident Canada will have a good indication of how negotiations are going soon after each round.

Canada has Edge in NAFTA Negotiations

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Experience, outreach give Canada an edge in achieving NAFTA renovation goals

NAFTA Primer for Canadians

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A NAFTA Primer for Canadians


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice President and Fellow

August, 2017


Table of Contents


After months of speculation, ministers and negotiators from Canada and Mexico fly to Washington this week to hear how the Trump Administration wants to change the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the set of rules managing continental trade since 1994. Partnered with the Mexicans, Canada is well equipped to advance our own objectives and use the talks to even greater advantage.

The NAFTA re-negotiation is part of a bigger exercise by the Trump Administration aimed at reducing US trade deficits, bringing jobs back to the USA, and getting a ‘fairer’ deal for Americans in their trade agreements.

Market access and rule-making are the twin pillars of trade policy and this is what the negotiators will spend their time discussing. Seven rounds are scheduled from now until Christmas, when both the US and Mexico hope a deal can be done. The Trump Administration wants the deal through Congress well before the November, 2018 midterms. The Mexicans want it out of the way before their presidential election in July, 2018.

North America is home to over 480 million people and over one-quarter of the world’s economic output. That makes us one of the most competitive regions in the world, according to the Bush Institute. Under NAFTA, total trilateral merchandise trade has reached nearly US$1trillion, representing more than a three-fold increase since 1993.

With 77.8 per cent of our merchandise exports destined to our NAFTA partners, one in six jobs in Canada depends on trade. As Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland observed, Canada’s economy is 2.5 percent larger every year, thanks to NAFTA: “it is as if Canada has been receiving a $20 billion cheque each year since NAFTA was ratified.”

But it is time to update our continental economic constitution.

The path that led to these negotiations has been contentious and, at times, acrimonious, especially in the wake of President Trump’s threats to ‘tear up the NAFTA’, build a wall on the Mexican border, deport ‘illegal immigrants’ and impose a border tax.

All three nations successfully negotiated new rules and improved market access in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that President Trump pulled out of after taking office. The TPP, now under resuscitation efforts by the other 11 partner nations, including Canada and Mexico, involved many of the same negotiators. Inevitably, the stillborn TPP will be a reference point for chapters in a new agreement.

A NAFTA 2.0 must bridge some profound differences.

The Americans want to rescind the current dispute settlement process for countervail and anti-dumping cases, leaving Mexico and Canada to rely on the U.S. trade remedy system. For Canada and Mexico, this is a non-starter. A fair dispute settlement mechanism will be essential to any new agreement.

For Canada, the overriding objective is a deal that sustains and improves access to the US market. Trade with the U.S. (nearly three-quarters of our trade) accounts for an estimated 1.9 million Canadian jobs.

The border continues to be as much chokepoint as gateway. We made progress in the Harper era to reach beyond-the-border and to embrace regulatory cooperation. But this work needs a re-boot.

We have some house-keeping to take care of: the legislation enabling more US customs clearance operations for cross-border passage by air, sea and rail. We also need to figure out, with the US, how to manage the new refugee flow from the USA resulting from Mr. Trump’s immigration changes, real and anticipated.

The experienced Canadian team, having honed their skills negotiating free trade deals across the Atlantic and the Pacific, are well positioned.

First, surveys show that Canadians are confident in the Trudeau government’s ability to negotiate a good deal on their behalf. Canadians don’t like Mr. Trump. Neither do Mexicans or the rest of the world according to Pew surveys. The antipathy towards Mr. Trump will give the Trudeau government elbow room.

Second, the U.S. has taken the idea of a border tax off the table. This would have been a show-stopper. But the driving force for the tax came from House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose support for a re-negotiated NAFTA will be necessary.

Third, the economic auguries are good. Canadians are optimistic about their future prospects. The OECD projects unemployment in Canada (6.1 per cent) and the U.S. (4.3 per cent) at the lowest point in a decade – lost jobs are always blamed on trade – while growth in Canada (2.3 per cent) and the U.S. (2.4 per cent) will lead the G7. Mexican unemployment is at 4.3 per cent with growth projected at two per cent.

Fourth, there is broad public support in all three countries for continental free trade. A Pew survey conducted in May says NAFTA enjoys the support of three in four Canadians and six in 10 Mexicans. Surprisingly, half of Americans (51 per cent) say NAFTA has been a good thing for the US.

President Trump’s focus on NAFTA has brought hitherto silent support for NAFTA to the surface, especially in the U.S. farm community, a core part of the Trump base.  Their support for NAFTA is one reason why Trump decided to renegotiate, rather than scrap, NAFTA.

The Canadian outreach campaign –at the political level it has netted meetings with 50 governors and lieutenant governors and over 200 congressmen– has revealed that we have more allies than we thought for continuing our mutually-profitable continental trade. Canada and Mexico must continue cultivating their support. We will need it when the new deal reaches Congress.

The auspices for a new deal are good, but fasten the seatbelts. Negotiators will need to contend with threats and counter-threats, midnight tweets, and other noise.

Negotiations are traditionally conducted in secrecy but the US system is leaky by nature and by design and it is exacerbated by the current factionalism on Capitol Hill and within the Trump administration. To sustain public support Canadian negotiators will have to keep consulting with stakeholders and then explain, explain, explain.

Canadian governments should use the negotiations as an opportunity to improve Canadian competitiveness. Canadians want their governments to regulate for public safety and sovereignty but there are still thickets of red tape that need weeding. We need new and better connections – rail, road and pipe -to our ports. And we need to take another swing at inter-provincial trade barriers.

Trade promotion could do with a boost. Canada can compete continentally and globally as we proved in the decade of trade-led growth that followed the 1988 Canada-US FTA . The premiers have taken to sales and marketing like ducks to water. So should our big city mayors.

The ‘Canada brand’ is strong and, for now, Justin Trudeau represents the ‘face’ of Canada. Let’s leverage this into more trade and investment that creates and sustains jobs. As Canada’s top salesman, Mr. Trudeau needs to lead this parade.




How did we wind up in negotiations?

During the remarkable 2016 American election campaign, Donald Trump called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever” and promised to tear it up, along with the TPP and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

After his election, the U.S. withdrew from the TPP. The TTIP was put in the freezer. Threats to “terminate” NAFTA continued until just after his 100th day in office when, as President Trump tells it, telephone calls from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Enrique Peña Nieto persuaded him to “give renegotiation a good, strong shot.” Opposition from both sides of Congress and the farm community likely weighed significantly in the Trump decision.



Who are the negotiators?

At the ministerial level, Robert Lighthizer is the United States Trade Representative (USTR). A long-time litigator and former USTR official during the Reagan era, he will work closely with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whom Trump has charged with overseeing the negotiations, with the support of Peter Navarro, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy. John Melle, a long-time senior official at the USTR responsible for North America, will direct the day-to-day negotiations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who previously served as Trade minister, will oversee the Canadian team. Steve Verheul, a long-time agriculture trade negotiator and chief negotiator for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), will be Canada’s chief negotiator.

Ms. Freeland has also named an advisory committee of eminent Canadians including former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and former Harper cabinet minister James Moore, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff. A Canada-U.S. cabinet committee chaired by Transport Minister Marc Garneau will keep watch. The NAFTA file will also sit prominently and permanently on Trudeau’s desk.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo will oversee the negotiations with veteran trade negotiator Kenneth Smith Ramos, currently director of Mexico’s NAFTA office in Washington, as their chief negotiator.

The negotiating teams will be drawn from the professional trade policy officers in government ministries. Canadian Chief Negotiator Steve Verheul told the Trade Committee (August 14) that there will be 28 tables of negotiators. They will be tasked to come up with language for the individual chapters e.g. procurement, intellectual property, services, of the new deal. Where trade policy was once about tariff rates it is increasingly about regulations around, for example, labour and the environment. Trade is now a horizontal issue that cuts across government.

In addition to the input from their respective executive offices, domestic agencies and departments, the negotiating teams will also rely on advice from their respective ambassadors: Canada’s David MacNaughton in Washington and Pierre Alarie in Mexico City;  Mexico’s Dionisio Pérez-Jácome Friscione in Ottawa and  Geronimo Gutiérrez Fernández in Washington; the U.S.’s Kelly Knight Craft in Ottawa and Roberta Jacobson in Mexico City.

The Mexicans, in outlining their objectives, described well the actual negotiating process:

“As in all negotiations, in the modernization of NAFTA, there will be different levels of interaction between the negotiating teams of the three countries. At the technical level, those responsible are the negotiating heads. At a next level, there will be the undersecretaries or their equivalents, who will be in charge of advancing those topics that after the technical work so require, and at the strategic level will be the secretaries or ministers who will lead the negotiation process in each country.”



How long will the negotiations last?

The preliminary negotiations will begin in Washington on Aug. 16 for three or four days, after which the negotiating teams will go home, take stock and reconvene at roughly three-week intervals, likely rotating between respective capitals (or cities with direct air connections), with seven scheduled rounds before Christmas.

Both Mexico and the U.S. would like the negotiations over by Christmas or early in the New Year lest they intrude into their election cycles. The TPA, which enabled the negotiations, expires in July although there is a provision to extend it. Mexico will elect a new president, Chamber of Deputies and Senate in July. U.S. midterm elections for the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate take place in November.

The U.S. initiated these negotiations and while it wants an early conclusion, USTR Robert Lighthizer said in June that completing the negotiations by the year’s end was a “very, very quick time frame and we’re not going to have a bad agreement to save time.”  Under the TPA, the USTR will have to give Congress notice after negotiation of any agreement and this starts a process that can last up to six months before Congress holds an up or down vote on the agreement.

Trade negotiations almost always take longer than anticipated. It took four years, and a contested election in Canada, to negotiate and then implement the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA took over three years, with elections in both Canada and the U.S. resulting in additional side agreements on labour and the environment. CETA, most of which will be implemented in September, took eight years. The Doha round of the World Trade Organization negotiations began in 2001 and there is no end in sight. The TPP negotiations started in 2006, with Canada and Mexico joining in October 2012. While agreement was reached in 2016, the U.S.’s withdrawal means it must be renegotiated before it can go into effect.



What do the Americans want?

The U.S. objectives, mandated by congressional oversight in the Trade Promotion Authority,  reflected the input from dozens of meetings and formal hearings with stakeholders and over 12,000 comments received online through the Federal Register.

In mid-July Lighthizer submitted to Congress a summary of American objectives designed to “seek a much better agreement that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and services … Since NAFTA was implemented in 1994, the U.S. bilateral goods trade balance with Mexico has gone from a $1.3 billion surplus to a $64 billion deficit in 2016. Market access issues have arisen in Canada with respect to dairy, wine, grain and other products — barriers that the current agreement is unequipped to address.”

The U.S. negotiating objectives also include the addition of chapters on the environment and labour (currently side agreements) and on the digital economy, including data flows,  as well as “to eliminate unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state-owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions on intellectual property.”

The US had some specific asks of Canada including raising the Canadian customs inspection and duty (the de minimus level) threshold for imports entering by mail or UPS or FedEx from its current level of $20. The US level is $800 while Mexico’s de minimus level is $50. While e-commerce shoppers of Amazon, eBay and others would like this and it would lift some of the regulatory burden for small and medium sized business that depend on sourcing material from south of the border, Canadians retailers say this could put them out of business. But Perrin Beatty, Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO got it right when he said that Canada is “literally spending dollars to collect dimes,” while “important trade facilitation programs and enforcement issues are not pursued as aggressively because of resource constraints.”

The US has also identified Canada’s protectionist dairy supply management system as a target. It needs reform. It deprives Canadians of choice (a 270 percent duty on foreign cheese beyond a tiny quota is a mighty deterrent) and does nothing to encourage development of our cheeses as a world-class premium product. But, when it comes to farm subsidies, the US is no slouch, with its support for American dairy, sugar, corn and other produce. The US also enjoys a 5-1 advantage in the dairy trade with Canada.

The US has also identified the rules of origin need to be enforced and better defined. Canada and Mexico want to preserve the rules of origin for autos establishing North American-sourced content at 62.5 percent. As Prime Minister Trudeau told state governors Canada and the US make things together. The auto trade is probably the best example and, as both Trudeau and Chystia Freeland have observed,  Ontario-based Magna “employs 62,000 Americans, 22,000 Mexicans, and 20,000 Canadians – building auto parts and components that rely on supply chains that crisscross the borders.”



What do the Mexicans want?

The Mexicans, after similar consultations with industry, educators, agricultural groups and other stakeholders, tabled their objectives in early August. They want to strengthen Mexico’s growing energy sector. They want to protect intellectual property and to improve access for goods and services. They want greater labour market integration. They would like improved rules of origin to guarantee regional benefits. They want to unify agriculture, animal and health safety regulations. They want a stronger dispute resolution mechanism and all parties in the Mexican congress recently voted to sustain the bi-national panels (Chapter 19) that hear complaints about illegal subsidies and dumping and then issue binding decisions.


What does Canada want?

In a speech at the University of Ottawa and remarks before the Standing Committee on International Trade (August 14) Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland compared the negotiations to ‘renovating a house’ and laid out her main objectives:

  • Modernize the 23 year-old NAFTA to take into account the technological and digital revolution;
  • Make it a progressive “fair trade” agreement, using CETA as a model, through inclusion of chapters on the environment to address climate change, labour, gender equality, indigenous peoples;
  • Reforming dispute settlement to ensure governments’ have the right to legislate in the public interest with fair dispute settlement (Chapter XIX);
  • Improvements for business through easing business travel (Chapter XVI), cutting red tape and focusing more on harmonized regulatory cooperation;
  • Preserving supply management and cultural exception.

Consultations on NAFTA – the government has received over 21, 000 submissions –  have underlined the need to ‘Do no Harm’. Canadians understand that trade has worked to their advantage. Planning on the Canadian side falls into in three baskets:

Defensive Interests: We want to preserve the dispute settlement mechanism for countervail and anti-dump, i.e., NAFTA Chapter 19. Canada attempted unsuccessfully to have anti-dumping duties and countervailing duties done away with in the FTA negotiations in the mid-1980s but then settled for a dispute settlement system that was rolled into the NAFTA. We may have to push back on US efforts to broaden the scope of US trade remedy intervention around safeguard action and national security. If water is raised (doubtful), Canadian negotiators can be expected to enunciate longstanding Canadian policy and, if necessary, draw on the recent CETA agreement  that explicitly declares that water in its natural state is not subject to the terms of the agreement.

Modernization: This should be relatively easy to agree on especially on use of technology to create e-authorizations for customs clearance. This is already underway, but not completed, in the regulatory cooperation and beyond-the-border initiatives. Modernization, Minister Freeland and the negotiators told the Trade Committee, will also draw from the work already done in the TPP agreement and CETA. This could include the e-commerce chapter that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has made a priority. Canada would not be unhappy to see the end – or reform – of the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, i.e., NAFTA Chapter 11. As trade law expert Larry Herman chronicles, it has cost Canadian taxpayers a lot of money, especially with its successful application by U.S. industry over provincial government practices.

Offensive interests: Ms. Freeland has said she will push on the environment, labour, indigenous people, and gender equality. A consistent theme in the ongoing stakeholder consultations is the need more streamlining at the border. In some cases, the NAFTA provisions are not used because they involve too much work filling in forms and getting approvals. Canada wants to expand labour mobility to include occupations not included in original NAFTA (so as to cover, broaden the scope and depth of government procurement, and curb the application of U.S. trade remedy laws.


Is NAFTA unpopular?

Support for NAFTA is lowest in the U.S., hardly surprising as most presidential candidates, especially Democrats, have consistently campaigned against NAFTA since its negotiation in 1992.

Bill Clinton campaigned against it in his election victory over NAFTA architect George H. W. Bush, but then embraced it as president (as did the Chrétien Liberals) after the incorporation of side deals on the environment and labour. But passage in Congress required an all-out White House campaign. Even then, most Democrats voted against its passage.

Donald Trump was especially critical of NAFTA in the 2016 campaign but Hillary Clinton also promised NAFTA reforms, as both she and then-candidate Barack Obama did in 2008.

The big change has been the shift in GOP support. It became free trade-minded with Ronald Reagan, and still enjoys significant support, if declining support, with Capitol Hill GOP. But Donald Trump mined the discontent of Rust Belt and working-class voters, who blame NAFTA for job loss and industry dislocation, even though technological innovation, notably robotics and its productivity gains, is more responsible.

Surprisingly, the recent focus on NAFTA has galvanized what public opinion surveys say is a quiet majority of support for continuing the North American free trade regime. This is especially significant in the U.S. because the negotiation and implementation of a new accord will depend on Donald Trump’s ability to achieve congressional agreement.

Both Canada and Mexico have launched unprecedented outreach campaigns in the USA involving their ministers, premiers and governors, and legislators at all levels of government as well as key business and labour stakeholders reaching out to their American counterparts and reminding them that NAFTA works for them as well. This effort will need to be sustained.


In recent weeks, the major business associations in each country have all rallied around a renewed NAFTA. The national chambers of commerce of the U.S., Canada and Mexico have launched the North American Economic Alliance as a platform for an updated trilateral agreement on the principle of “do no harm.” The Business Council of Canada, the Business Roundtable and the Consejo Mexicano de Negocios have also warned about “disrupting supply chains that enable our companies and workers to produce globally competitive goods and services.”

There is also support from the auto workers. In a recent release, the leaders of Unifor Canada and the U.S. United Automobile Workers argue jointly for a deal “to raise wages and labour standards in Mexico; ensuring that autos and auto parts granted tariff-free access are actually made in North America and meet high enough content rules; structuring the agreement to achieve greater trade balance, and to ensure that workers in each country get a fair share of the benefits of the industry.”

Farm groups have also come out in support of NAFTA with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, telling farmers that “First of all, the principle is: ‘Do no harm.’ Overall, agriculture’s done very well under NAFTA and we hope to continue that.”

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas in Mexico and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a joint letter to Trump, Trudeau and Peña Nieto urging them “not to jeopardize the success of the men, women and families engaged in the cattle and beef industries of each of our countries, who depend on the success that market access provides under NAFTA.”



Recent polling on NAFTA

A recent Pew survey (May 2017) revealed that NAFTA enjoys the support of three in four Canadians and six in 10 Mexicans. Surprisingly, half of Americans (51 per cent) say NAFTA has been a good thing for the US.


A recent Nanos survey of U.S. business (July 2017) revealed that 45 per cent of U.S. businesses think the U.S. economy is better off because of NAFTA, while 25 per cent think the economy is worse off and 13 per cent think there has been no impact.

After a decline in support for free trade agreements in general during the 2016 campaign, a plurality of Americans support them again, according to another 2017 Pew Research Center survey. According to Pew, political partisanship is linked to views of NAFTA, most notably in the U.S. In a switch of historical allegiance, about two-thirds (68 per cent) of Democrats but only 30 per cent of Republicans see NAFTA as good for the U.S. Gender, age and race also divide Americans with women, youth, Hispanics and African-Americans more likely to back freer trade.


In Mexico, the Pew survey reveals that 59 per cent of those who identify with the governing PRI party and 68 per cent of those supporting the PAN (the party of former presidents Fox and Calderone) support NAFTA.


Canadians like trade

Most Canadians back free trade. According to Pew, supporters of all three parties – Conservatives (83 per cent), Liberals (82 per cent), NDP (70 per cent) – say it has been a good thing for Canada.

Canadians have consistently backed freer trade since the early 1990s when the rewards of the Canada-U.S. FTA ushered in a decade of economic growth. That agreement was no sure thing with Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives fighting the 1988 election on the issue. They won a majority of the seats (with 43 per cent of the popular vote) but only carried three provinces – Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec – with the Liberals and NDP and most premiers opposed to the agreement.

Today, the Trudeau Liberals are champions of freer trade and a renewed NAFTA enjoys strong support from the Conservatives as well the premiers. The premiers and provincial legislators are vital to the Canadian campaign reminding Americans that we are their biggest export market and that trade with Canada generates an estimated nine million American jobs.

Recent surveys by  NANOS  and IPSOS reveal that the Canadian public has confidence in the Trudeau government’s ability to negotiate a good deal and people are also willing to cut the government a lot of slack in its NAFTA renegotiation. A recent Angus Reid survey also showed that Canadians are ready to make changes to the supply management system that protects the dairy and poultry industries but with a higher cost to consumers.



What about softwood lumber?

Softwood lumber, or timber as it is called in the U.S., was likely the first trade dispute, dating back before Confederation to the George Washington administration when Massachusetts timber merchants (Maine was then part of Massachusetts) sought redress for competition from New Brunswick lumber used in shipbuilding. It has been a regular, unfortunate and visceral feature of Canada-U.S. relations for much of the last half century. The rancour over shakes and shingles almost undid the negotiations leading to the 1988 Canada-U.S. FTA. A series of carefully negotiated agreements have managed the trade but with the expiry of the 2006 agreement in September 2015 and inability to secure a deal in the year-long moratorium that followed, Canadian lumber producers are once more paying export duties.

At the crux of the dispute are our different practices on domestic support and taxation, with most U.S. timber harvested from private lands (as in our Maritimes) rather than public lands (as in the rest of Canada). Even though the industry is increasingly integrated in terms of ownership, there remain lots of small timber holdings, especially in the southeastern U.S., that view Canadian practices as subsidized by government. Any deal is likely to once more see a managed trade deal with a quota on Canadian lumber imports after which a levy would kick in. Any deal is also complicated by the requirement for the provinces – British Columbia is the biggest supplier, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick – each with their own particular forestry practices, to agree on how they will divvy up the trade.

A deal may be in the making with Canadian supply capped at around 30 per cent of U.S. requirements. In the meantime, the Conference Board of Canada estimates that the U.S. levies will result in the reduction of 1,100 jobs this year, underlining the need for a deal as well as market diversification.



What happens if we don’t get a new NAFTA?

If the US were to rescind NAFTA they would have to give six months’ notice of withdrawal (and this might be litigated given the US system). The NAFTA would stay intact between Canada and Mexico. Canada-U.S. trade would revert to the provisions of the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. If that were also rescinded, then the most-favoured nation (MFN) provisions negotiated under the WTO would apply with the U.S. MFN duty rate generally lower than the Canadian rate (2.2 per cent versus 3.2 per cent).

A more probable scenario is an impasse or breakdown in negotiations, as happened during the Canada-U.S. FTA talks. There could well be threats and counter-threats around retaliation. During the country-of-origin labelling (COOL) dispute, Canada and Mexico prepared a retaliatory list of goods on which they would apply higher duties. We would have targeted, for example, California wine.  California has the biggest congressional delegation and they did not look kindly on sacrificing their wine sales to protect ranchers.

This targeted approach in potential trade retaliation helped convince the U.S. Congress to rescind the COOL legislation in December 2016 and thus conclude a dispute that had dragged through both NAFTA and WTO since 2008. You can be sure Canada and Mexico will have a new retaliatory list in hand should, for example, plans for a border tax re-emerge.



Did NAFTA work?

By any economic estimate NAFTA worked. But as the Council on Foreign Relations recently observed:

“Economists largely agree that NAFTA has provided benefits to the North American economies. Regional trade increased sharply [PDF] over the treaty’s first two decades, from roughly $290 billion in 1993 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2016. Cross-border investment has also surged, with U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in Mexico increasing in that period from $15 billion to more than $100 billion. But experts also say that it has proven difficult to tease out the deal’s direct effects from other factors, including rapid technological change, expanded trade with other countries such as China, and unrelated domestic developments in each of the countries. Debate persists regarding NAFTA’s legacy on employment and wages, with some workers and industries facing painful disruptions as they lose market share due to increased competition, and others gaining from the new market opportunities that were created… In the years since NAFTA, U.S. trade with its North American neighbors has more than tripled, growing more rapidly than U.S. trade with the rest of the world. Canada and Mexico are the two largest destinations for U.S. exports, accounting for more than a third of the total.”


To underline the increasingly integrated nature of continental trade, a Wilson Center study concluded that Mexican exports to the U.S. market contain 40 per cent U.S. content and Canadian exports to the U.S. contain 25 per cent U.S. content.

But did NAFTA exacerbate social inequality? Did it unduly benefit some, i.e., investors, while failing to help with adjustment assistance or retraining those affected by trade and technological change? We can and have to do better in ensuring the gains of trade are broadly shared and that trade lifts all boats, not just the yachts.


What is in a trade agreement?

Trade agreements set out the rules of the road for trade including how to manage disputes. Where once they focused on tariffs – the government levy on imports – they increasingly address regulations and standards.

NAFTA, now 23 years old, was pathbreaking in its scope and breadth and while it has remained evergreen, a revision to take into account, for example, the digital economy, makes a lot of sense. The TPP effectively would have achieved this goal and NAFTA 2.0 will probably resemble it, at least in its framework of the 30 chapters in both the TPP and CETA versus the 22 chapters in NAFTA. (see annex for the chapters)

A trade agreement begins with a preamble (declaratory and intended to be inspirational), objectives and general definitions. Then comes the heart of the agreement – trade in goods, technical barriers to trade, procurement, investment and services, intellectual property, anti-corruption, competition, labour, environment, competitiveness, regulatory coherence, transparency – and finally any other provisions and then annexes with specific obligations.



Further reading

I learned my trade policy during the negotiation of the Canada-U.S. FTA, led by Simon Reisman, and then NAFTA, led by John Weekes. Throughout and since I have benefited from the tutelage of Michael Hart, Canada’s preeminent trade policy historian and the late Bill Dymond. With Michael in the lead, we wrote a book, Decision at Midnight: Inside the Canada-US Free Trade Negotiations, that is still a good primer on Canada-U.S. trade policy. Michael, Bill and I wrote the explanatory document to the FTA and then, as NAFTA was negotiated, Michael and I wrote NAFTA: What’s it all About. It was a big help in the NAFTA parliamentary implementation, until recently the biggest piece of implementing legislation, another reminder of the cross-cutting scope of trade agreements. Bill and Michael went on to direct Carleton University’s Centre for Trade Policy and Law that has spawned many able trade policy experts. One of the most notable is Dr. Laura Dawson who now heads the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. With its sister institute for Mexico, headed by Duncan Wood, they are a continuing source of knowledge and inspiration on North American integration.

I have benefited over the years from the work of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and especially the thoughtful advice of Gary Hufbauer and Jeff Schott. The Peterson Institute continues to track NAFTA through its superb research, seminars and conferences on A Positive NAFTA Renegotiation.

The Bush Institute in Dallas has done excellent work on North American competitiveness and their mapping project, led by former diplomat Matt Rooney, deserves attention.

Scott Miller and Andrea Durkin at the Center for International Strategic Studies produce Trade Vistas, a great way to learn more about trade and trade policy.

The Council on Foreign Relations has done excellent work on North American integration. CFR fellow Edward Alden’s Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy (2016) is a must-read.

In Canada, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Conference Board, the Canada West Foundation and the Institute for Research on Public Policy have all given continuing attention to Canada-U.S. and North American trade policy. I recommend a recent series of IRPP essays on redesigning trade policy and the ongoing trade policy work of the Centre for International Government Innovation (CIGI). Agriculture Canada has a very good website with some superb graphics, including the ‘supply chain hamburger’. The Canadian Embassy’s state fact sheets are excellent.

For podcasts, listen to a quartet I recently hosted on The Global Exchange with fellow CGAI collaborators Laura Dawson and Eric Miller (in the aftermath of the U.S. objectives), John Weekes and Rob Wright (on the big picture), Sarah Goldfeder (on the U.S. process) and Lawrence Herman (on dispute settlement). Larry is Canada’s legal expert on trade disputes and his own website is a wealth of information.

For intelligent commentary on how we can improve North American economic integration, the SAGE (Strategies, Advocacies, Gateways, Engagement) group, a loose association of Canada-U.S. business groups steered by Dan Ujczo, is doing good work in reimagining the Canada-U.S. relationship.

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER), led by the indomitable Matt Morrison, has an active group looking at specific proposals. The Council of the Great Lakes Region led by Mark Fisher has written to Trudeau and Trump with specific recommendations including expanding the integrated border enforcement teams (IBET) and creating a free trade zone in the region.

A lot of practical work is done by the North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO) directed by Tiffany Melvin, Rachel Connell and Jennifer Fox (in Ottawa) and by the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance led by longtime CEO Jim Phillips. The Canadian American Business Council (CABC), led by the irrepressible Scotty Greenwood, has put forward 10 useful proposals around Canada-U.S. trade including making permanent the Regulatory Cooperation Council; creating a zero-tariff zone; mutually recognized standards, testing and certification; revising procurement rules to include all jurisdictions, state and federal, in Canada and the U.S., i.e., buy “Canada-U.S.”; further integration of our energy potential through joint infrastructure and regulatory standards; easier movement by professionals; and more predictable border processing.  The best state-level Canada-U.S. business council is in Arizona and led by Canadian Honorary Consul Glenn Williamson. They make trade real. We should clone him and put him in every U.S. state.

The Canada-U.S. business relationship is an ongoing preoccupation for the Business Council of Canada, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and IECanada – Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.

The case for North American integration is made in the tripartite report Building a North American Community (2005), sponsored by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (now the Business Council of Canada) first led by Tom D’Aquino and now by Canadian chair John Manley (who succeeded Tom as CEO), the Council on Foreign Relations and Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales. The Council on Foreign Relations published a subsequent report, North America: Time for a New Focus (2014) authored by General (Ret’d) David Petraeus and Robert Zoellick. Petraeus also authored The Next Great Emerging Market? Capitalizing on North America’s Four Interlocking Revolutions (2015) for Harvard’s Belfer Center. Eric Miller, John Dillon and I authored a report Made in North America (2014) for the Business Council of Canada.

The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, the School of Global Studies at the Universidad Anáhuac México Norte, the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University hosted the third in a series of conferences about the North American process. I have also benefitted from recent panel appearances with scholars including Carleton University’s Reisman Chair Meredith Lilly and Ottawa University’s Patrick Leblond.


Appendix: NAFTA and the TPP

The NAFTA, TPP and CETA agreements are all available on the Global Affairs Canada website. Below are the chapters in the NAFTA and TPP (likely the framework model for a NAFTA 2.0).



The Trans-Pacific Partnership (minus specific country-by-country obligations):


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Canada v Mexico: Trump seeks to divide and conquer in Nafta negotiations

Both countries are scrambling to best handle a president who ranks among the more unpredictable elements of the upcoming negotiations

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump.
Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/AFP/Getty Images
 The rhetoric against a neighbouring country dominated Donald Trump’s presidential campaign: a billion-dollar wall, a crackdown on immigration, and a steep border tax. Yet when Trump fired the opening shot in his trade war, it was aimed not at Mexico – but at Canada.

First came an average 20% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber. Months later the Trump administration piled another tariff of nearly 7% on the sector.

Trump launched a broad attack on several sectors north of the border. “Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farmworkers is a disgrace,” he told reporters. “We can’t let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers … included in there is lumber, timber and energy. So we’re going to have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly.”

The sharp reversal – a few months earlier Trump had characterised the US-Canada relationship as “outstanding” – came as a surprise to many.

“Step aside, China and Mexico: Canada is now Donald Trump’s whipping-boy du jour on trade,” said the Canadian Press, while Politico offered their thoughts on why president had not gone after Mexico first: “Canada is an easy target and doesn’t have as many weapons to fight back.”

Others said it was long overdue. “Canada was getting a free ride,” said Federico Estévez, a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “All of the fire was headed south of the US border – so Canada was getting off easy.”

Estévez pointed to the looming renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement to explain the turnaround. “I think Trump understood something basic, which is that the US will not be able to tweak Nafta or rework it unless it splits up Canada and Mexico and makes Canada squirm just as well,” he said. “You want to open up some battlefronts – and that’s what he’s effectively done, to the surprise of everybody.”

With the renegotiations slated to begin on 16 August, all of the interactions of past months – from pleasantries to attacks – are again under the microscope. Against a backdrop of grievances over trade deficits and protectionist policies, officials in both Canada and Mexico are also scrambling to shore up strategies to best handle a president who ranks among the more unpredictable elements of the upcoming negotiations.

Both countries have much at stake. Canada sends about three-quarters of its annual exports to the US while nearly 400,000 people a day cross the shared border. In Mexico, some 80% of exports end up in the US.

Mexican and Canadian officials have been laying the groundwork for months. Trudeau’s inner circle have fostered close contacts with the Trump administration, while representatives from Canadian government and business have been criss-crossing the US to reinforce how Americans benefit from their relationship with Canada, said Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“There have been, I think, 170 visits by Canadians to the States since January. And not just to Washington but also into Trump territory,” he said. “And it’s not just ministers, it’s legislators and premiers and provincial legislators.”

The aim, said Robertson, is to mitigate what he described as Trump’s “situational politics”, which see the president shift stances depending on the audience he’s addressing. He pointed to Trump’s swipe at Canadian dairy as an example, as it came while the president addressed an audience in Wisconsin.

In Mexico, the job of managing relations with the Trump administration has fallen to Luis Videgaray, a foreign minister whose experience in the world of finance has overlapped with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Despite initial setbacks – Trump signed an executive order to build the border wall and tweeted that Mexico would pay for it even as Videgaray was heading to Washington to meet with Kushner – the minister and his small team have earned some plaudits as the threat of Trump has apparently diminished for Mexico and the peso bounced back after a Trump-inspired slump.

So far, Mexico’s strategy for handling Trump seems to lie in trying to save some provisions of Nafta at all costs, such as investor protections, analysts say.

The government closed online consultations late last month, though it has attracted criticism for appearing to pay closer attention to the country’s big business elite while ignoring the interests of smaller firms and beleaguered workers.

“I’ve not read the national interests of Mexico spelled out,” said Carlos Heredia of the Centre for Research and Teaching of Economics. “There hasn’t been any sort of open consultation – the online consultation is sort of a joke – but there’s nothing saying, ‘We are going to represent the national interest of Mexico, not just the top echelons of business and politics.’”

Mexico released its objectives for Nafta negotiations last week. It joined Canada in opposing US plans to eliminate dispute resolution mechanism known as Chapter 19, but also will propose anti-graft initiatives and provisions for small business and the digital economy. Energy will also be on the table as Mexico approved a reform to open its oil industry in 2013.

From immigration to the environment, Trump’s political stances – widely despised in both Mexico and Canada – could colour discussions at the negotiating table, raising questions of how America’s neighbours will respond.

While Trudeau’s approval ratings remain high, suggesting many Canadians are comfortable with his reluctance to chastise Trump, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto is even more unpopular than the US leader – and his apparent unwillingness to talk tough with Trump is widely as a weakness.

“The greatest problem of the Mexican response to Trump has been that the Mexican government has acted over and over again as if the constituency of its foreign policy were only one person: Donald Trump,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor of CIDE. “This has left it open to vulnerabilities, the most of important of which is an inability to voice the legitimate grievances Trump causes many regular Mexicans.”

Despite their differences, Trump has demonstrated a level of cordiality and friendship with Trudeau, said Laura Dawson, who heads the Canada Institute at Washington’s Wilson Centre.

“It’s kind of funny in the tweets that I’ve been reading. When he’s talking about his two neighbours, he calls them, Justin and the Mexican president,” she said. “I don’t know if he doesn’t know Trudeau’s last name, I don’t know if he knows Peña Nieto’s name at all – but its always Justin and the Mexicans.”

What’s certain is that Canada and Mexico now realise they’re in it together. “There was some public opinion, at least in Canada, that we could go at it alone, without Mexico because they’re in the crosshairs and we’re not. I think that that sentiment has really subsided,” said Dawson, pointing to official statements from both countries that reiterate the importance of the trilateral agreement.

While Trump has gone after both neighbours, he’s also demonstrated that he’s open to changing his mind on things, said Dawson.

“He’s willing to find a parade and get in front of it, so I think that if Canada and Mexico are skillful enough about giving the president some wins that he can claim – you know, modernisation of the agreement, certain things that affect labour or manufacturing – I think they can also move ahead on the modernisation agenda on the Nafta.”

Foreign Service

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A foreign service worth fighting for

Somewhere between ‘golden age’ and ‘culture of complaint’ lies the state of Canada’s foreign service. OpenCanada’s Catherine Tsalikis interviewed nearly two dozen diplomats and experts to discover a gradual tarnishing of the diplomatic corps over the years — but many are rooting for its restoration.



July 26, 2017
Illustration of Global Affairs Canada headquarters in Ottawa. Credit: Sami Chouhdary.

Like the Great Sphinx of Giza, from which its headquarters at 125 Sussex Drive took inspiration, Canada’s foreign service holds many secrets — the building’s nickname, ‘Fort Pearson,’ speaks to the opacity that surrounds many of its inner workings.

The exterior is clad in uninviting horizontal, concrete slabs. Through a canopied front entrance, and past security, is the wood-panelled Robertson Room, where Canada’s government hammered out its response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and where leaders from Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union met to discuss German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In an homage to one of Canadian diplomacy’s signature moments, prominently displayed by the lobby’s windows is a perfect replica of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s 1957 Nobel Peace Prize — the original now relocated to the new Canadian History Hall, which opened as part of the Museum of History’s Canada 150 exhibit.

While Confederation brought the colonies of Canada together 150 years ago, the foreign service isn’t quite that old. When Canada’s first Department of External Affairs was created in 1909, it was housed in a ramshackle office above a barber shop at Queen and Bank streets, and its main responsibility was to manage the flow of correspondence between Ottawa, London and foreign capitals. Though then-Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier had wanted to give the work of foreign affairs “the dignity and importance of a department by itself, as [was] done in other countries,” its beginnings were less than auspicious. Five blocks away from the East Block on Parliament Hill, where the prime minister and several ministries had their offices, the department was made up of only a handful of employees and had hardly any capacity to shape Canada’s relations with other countries.

The department did make it to the East Block a few years later, and over the first half of the 20th century its size and scope — and its diplomatic corps, the foreign service — grew modestly as Canada itself gained more autonomy from Britain over its international dealings. During the period following World War II through to the mid-1960s the department expanded rapidly, with Canada playing a leading role in the development of multilateral institutions like the United Nations and NATO, in what came to be seen by many as the ‘golden age’ of Canadian diplomacy — its zenith being Pearson’s Nobel Prize for the creation of a UN peacekeeping force during the Suez Crisis in the Middle East.

When Pierre Elliott Trudeau came into office, however, he brought with him a distrust of professional diplomats. “In the early days of the telegraph,” he told a reporter, “you needed a dispatch to know what was happening in country A, whereas now, most of the time, you can read it in a good newspaper.” Despite protest, in 1973 the department was moved to its present location, about a 10-minute drive from Parliament Hill, on the banks of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

Over the next few decades, the department’s makeup underwent much shape-shifting, with trade, immigration and development at various times consolidated under the foreign affairs banner or not. Most recently, under Justin Trudeau, the department’s designation became ‘Global Affairs Canada,’ which includes foreign affairs, trade and development.

Canada now has 1,174 foreign service officers and 179 diplomatic missions in 109 countries, up from 101 foreign service members and 22 missions at the end of WWII.

Behind these outwardly visible changes, however, there is a battle for the soul of the diplomatic corps unfolding, with fundamental questions about the role of a diplomat and the future of the service giving rise to, at times, fractious disagreement, according to interviews with almost two dozen current and former foreign service officers.

Glamour to grit

The foreign service has always had a bit of a challenging story to tell. Throughout the years, the idea of the ‘professional diplomat’ has for many conjured up visions of “dithering dandies” in pearls or pinstripes “lost in a haze of irrelevance somewhere between protocol and alcohol,” as former foreign service officer Daryl Copeland likes to say. That perception of course isn’t new; as one “riled career man” told The New York Times in 1970: “If I see one more caricature of a Canadian diplomat in striped pants sipping from martini glass holding a maple leaf olive pick, I’m going to burn my credentials card.”

But even in the 21st century, the average Canadian might find it hard to describe what the purpose of a foreign service officer is. Within the service, there is also existential angst about the role. While working for the diplomatic corps still holds a certain amount of prestige in the popular imagination, the reality on the ground is more than monogramed calling cards and canapés.

The foreign service is meant to be the government’s strongest advocacy instrument for defending Canada’s interests abroad — and the first line of defence when it comes to conflict prevention. The key elements of its mandate include working for international peace and security, promoting trade, investment and business opportunities for Canada’s economic benefit, and improving human rights around the world.

A few contemporary examples: helping to rebuild Bosnia after the 1992-1995 war; responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; championing the cause of maternal and early childhood health in the developing world; and working to prevent the spread of Ebola in Africa.

The benefits that come from personal diplomacy — the nurturing of relationships with key international decision-makers to protect and advance Canadian interests — may be nebulous, but can tell in a crisis.

The last year has put into stark focus the importance of a strong diplomatic team abroad. When, following the election of Donald Trump, Canada’s most valuable trading relationship seemed in jeopardy, the diplomatic corps activated a network of influencers across the United States who had a stake in trade with their northern neighbour, setting up a dramatic 11th-hour reversal by the White House, which abandoned a pledge to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and agreed to renegotiate the pact instead.

“The benefits that come from personal diplomacy may be nebulous, but can tell in a crisis.”

It was perhaps the biggest diplomatic coup to date for the new foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, who was appointed to the post after throwing herself as trade minister into the task of rescuing a pact between Canada and the European Union from near defeat with direct personal appeals to decision-makers in Brussels.

Career foreign service officer Colin Robertson served at the Canadian embassy in D.C., among other posts, and was part of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA treaty. He said in-person dealings are still just as necessary as ever. “You need someone on ground to provide you with trusted perspective. In Washington, I spent all my time wandering around Capitol Hill. Nothing beats being there — face-to-face is still the best way to transact business.”

Robertson defends ‘cocktail diplomacy’: “I always went to cocktail parties, for two reasons: one, to see and be seen, and two, as the Romans say, in vino veritas — truth comes out over a glass.”

David Edwards, who spent three decades in the foreign service and retired in 2011, says he hasn’t heard much waxing on about “dithering dandies” in recent years: “People are actually on the frontlines, a lot of people have been shot at, we have people in Baghdad, in and out of Libya, Haiti…I think it has moved from glamour to grit.”

Former Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Abbie Dann, who retired in 2013 after 33 years in the foreign service, likens being a foreign service officer to a calling, such as serving in the military, or feeling compelled to become a doctor or a human rights lawyer. “It’s not even a profession,” she said, “it should be considered a vocation. I’m Catholic, so I can use words like that.”

“I have 20 percent of my lung capacity, from pollution in Sao Paulo, Bombay and Kiev. And I’ve never smoked — lots of us are like that. Real foreign service officers are brought up a bit like the army: don’t explain, don’t complain, just get it done,” Dann said.

Michael Kologie, outgoing president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), agrees, and points out that the officers themselves are often not the only ones making sacrifices. “As diplomats, we have to remember that we are not just working from 8:30am-6pm — we’re representing Canada abroad 24/7. And it’s not just foreign service officers doing it, it’s their families that are doing it.”

One of the main purposes of the foreign service is to provide fearless advice and loyal implementation when it comes to the government of the day’s foreign policy, which necessitates close cooperation with Canada’s foreign ministers.

Lloyd Axworthy, who served as minister of foreign affairs from 1996-2000, says that when the Chrétien government was working on developing an ambitious treaty to ban landmines, Canadian embassy staff around the world “worked the streets,” in diplomatic parlance, with the goal of pulling off a treaty at the UN.

Thanks to the foreign embassy network set up under Pearson in the post-war years, Canada was able to draw on infrastructure in every region: “There have always been [those] in the Treasury Board saying oh, why do we need embassies in Patagonia, or something, and I said well, because they vote at the UN, they’ve got interests, and we never know when we’re going to need them.” In Axworthy’s opinion, the strength and ability of the foreign service has been one of the reasons why Canada has been able to play, when it wants to, an effective role on the international stage.

Barbara McDougall, Canada’s secretary of state for external affairs from 1991-1993, offers a more mixed assessment.

“There’s no question in my mind that the foreign service is the most professional of all the public service…That doesn’t mean that I thought they were always on top of their files,” she told OpenCanada.

In 1992, McDougall was the first Canadian foreign minister to visit South Africa for 30 years, timed to follow Nelson Mandela’s release from prison as a gesture of support for South Africa’s reforms following apartheid — though negotiations over the lifting of Canadian sanctions were just beginning.

In a kind of reverse example to Axworthy’s, McDougall said: “I don’t think our high commission there was at the kind of strength that it should’ve been. And you really notice when that happens, which tells you how good the foreign service is, when they’re at their best. Because when they’re not there, you notice.”


Tellingly, many of the current and former foreign service officers interviewed by OpenCanada pointed to Axworthy’s tenure — which saw the landmines treaty become binding international law — as the last ‘high point’ for Canada in international diplomacy.

By contrast, many said relations between the foreign service and its political masters reached a nadir under the government of Stephen Harper.

Of the atmosphere in the years before she retired in 2013, Dann said, “You could really feel it — they had an anti-elitist attitude. But it’s not an elite, it’s a profession first. Does it have some elitist aspects to it? Yeah — so does medicine, so does law, so does being a long-haul truck driver. You have to be really qualified to do it. That’s not elitist; that’s just being qualified.”

John Graham’s career with the foreign service spanned many decades, from spying for the Americans in Cuba in the 1960s to eventually being appointed ambassador to Venezuela and non-resident ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He sees an erosion of the service’s esprit de corps as starting earlier.

“You’re getting the voice of the dinosaur,” he told OpenCanada, “but this dinosaur has the impression that there were higher professional standards — the sense that it was a distinctive profession, with a culture of professional knowledge that you acquired as you moved through.”

Graham refutes the notion that the foreign service pre-Harper or pre-Chrétien was a “splendid, a well-oiled machine that most people were happy with — that was not the case. It’s important not to have a myth, a shining tower.”

Still, he is of the opinion that an “erosion” did indeed occur during the Harper years, and is concerned about the lasting effects.

“It’s very discouraging to note that a lot of the damage that was done by Harper is not being repaired,” he added. “That, I think, is an area really deserving of investigation.”

So, what have been the lasting effects of the Harper years? After almost a decade of cuts, has funding been restored? Has morale? And what gets lost when Canada isn’t playing at full capacity on the battlegrounds of diplomacy?

‘Yes men’ and ‘yes women’

Canada’s foreign affairs department is known to have taken a hit under the almost decade-long government of Stephen Harper, from severe personnel cuts to the muzzling of diplomats to the selling off of properties abroad. The 2010 failure to win a seat at the UN Security Council was a major diplomatic setback, and was held up as emblematic of the Harper government’s rejection of multilateralism. While many foreign service officers interviewed, like Graham, were careful to point out that Canadian diplomacy had seen low points before — the 1970 Times article also mentioned Pierre Trudeau’s “practice of depending on his own aides rather than professional diplomats for important advice and information” — Harper and successive Conservative foreign ministers seem to have left a mark on the psyche of the foreign service.

“I think they came in with a mistrust of the foreign service,” Axworthy said. “You heard all these horror stories. On the lecture circuit or while travelling I would hear ambassadors saying that they were told they couldn’t go to meetings, and if they were going to meetings their speeches had to be checked by the PMO or the PCO.”

While Axworthy said he never heard much outward sign of “rebelling or revolting,” the foreign service “went into a little bit of a fetal crouch for a while…they definitely lost a lot of good people, because they were just not being given much scope to advance.”

David Edwards remembers a dramatic shift in tone under the Harper government, with a pivot towards a projection of militarism. “We weren’t peacekeepers, we were warrior wannabes,” he said of Canada during the period, noting there was a change in the face and voice of the country when it was abroad. “If you were a soldier, you could speak to the press, but we couldn’t.”

Edwards gives the example of the 2010 Haiti earthquake: “The only people being interviewed were soldiers who had arrived 24 hours later. What about our people, who were there during the earthquake itself and during those first critical hours, who were actually living there?”

On top of tight message control, the government’s relationship with the civil service was perhaps put under even more strain by, as Graham puts it, “an absolute refusal to continue with the traditional culture of consultation with senior members of the public service. This certainly applied to the foreign service — senior people were not encouraged to consult with ministers. It was, ‘this is the policy and don’t ask questions.’”

This translated, Graham argues, into senior officials in the department being hired “at least in part because they were seen to be people who would not rock the party boat — they would be, to use a disparaging term, ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women.’”

“The foreign service ‘went into a little bit of a fetal crouch for a while.’”

This is a recurring critique offered by many who have served recently and by PAFSO.

Tim Hodges, who spent 25 years in the foreign service and served as president of PAFSO from 2014-2016, said there was “in effect a decade where you had management being promoted not just because they did the government’s bidding, because that’s our charge anyway, no matter who the government is, but [because] when asked to jump, they asked, ‘how high do you want me to jump?’”

Over time, Hodges said, bureaucrats from other departments were brought in at foreign affairs “in part to infiltrate the department, but [also] to bring it more in line.” While “not necessarily a bad thing,” Hodges thinks it had a negative result in this particular case. “Non-risk takers, centrists, were promoted up through the organization…talented personalities, yes, but that’s not the kind of people who would naturally think out of the box or think about new initiatives. And I think that’s a major downside currently for the department.”

Enter Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau came to power promising a restoration of Canada’s tradition of multilateralism and, in a Nov. 2015 letter to the ambassadors and high commissioners of Canada’s foreign missions, a “new era” in international engagement.

“My cabinet colleagues and I will be relying on your judgment, insights, discretion, and work ethic in advancing our interests. I have every confidence that your reporting and our interactions when I am abroad will provide a critical, factual basis for our policies,” Trudeau wrote.

Diplomats working for the newly renamed Global Affairs Canada at ‘Fort Pearson,’ where a siege-like atmosphere had set in, greeted their new political leaders with applause. One historian recently described it to OpenCanada as Trudeau “walking into the Pearson building and being received by the starving inmates with outstretched hands.”

The prime minister repeated his message at a rare meeting with 135 ambassadors and heads of mission in Ottawa last June. But while the tone coming from government with regards to the foreign service has definitely shifted back to a more traditional one, and while almost all of the diplomats who spoke with OpenCanada for this piece were happy to go on the record, interviews indicate that more than a year and a half since the Liberals took office, many are still waiting for the restoration of the foreign service to its former strength, standing and influence.

Abbie Dann now sits on the board of the Retired Heads of Mission Association. “All of us, the sort of ‘elders’ of the tribe, were very encouraged by the prime minister’s letter,” Dann said, “and from the type of ministers that have been put in, we’re hopeful. The [question] is, is that political will being really systematically pushed down through the department?”

Shift in tone aside, one publicly available metric by which to assess whether or not the foreign service is being built back up under the Trudeau government is funding. While total department spending is up slightly from the last year of the Harper government, Global Affairs’ Report on Plans and Priorities for 2017-18 suggests that more money for the foreign service is unlikely, given a projected drop in spending from $6.3 billion in 2016-17 to $5.4 billion in 2019-20.

And despite the Trudeau government’s “Canada is back” rhetoric, it has continued the Harper government’s strategy of selling off diplomatic properties. According to The National Post, as of June, 29 diplomatic properties have been sold since the Liberals were elected.

Michael Kologie, the outgoing PAFSO president, says he hasn’t heard of any new resources being allocated to the foreign service under Trudeau’s Liberals. In terms of personnel and positions abroad lost under the Harper government, Kologie “hasn’t seen any new life there,” nor has he seen financial increases to make up for rising costs of operating missions abroad and salaries increasing with inflation. “What that translates into is having to do more with less,” he said.

A Global Affairs spokesperson declined to comment specifically on whether additional funds have been allocated to the foreign service, and instead asked readers to refer to the departmental plan, which details funding for the entire department.

Daryl Copeland, who has written at length on his ideas for reforming the foreign service, points out that, as Canadians saw recently with the 2017 defence policy review, the “lion’s share” of international policy resources are going towards defence rather than diplomacy and development.

Copeland blames a timid service.

“It’s the department’s fault — they didn’t ask for any money in the budget,” he said.

“There are ways that the department can support the foreign service, either by building up the department’s budget so that they’ve got program money so that they can take initiative, or by applying for new funds to hire more new recruits, and there just hasn’t been any of that.”

Indeed, some view the apparently slow pace of rejuvenation under a more open-handed regime as a sign that the senior leadership of the service has yet to adjust to being let off the leash and is not yet inspiring the ranks to greater ambition.

There is debate, typical of political transitions, about whether senior managers brought in under Harper are the right people for the job.

“I think there’s a big disconnect at the moment between the Trudeau government’s ambitions and the senior levels of leadership in Global Affairs Canada,” Copeland said.

“The folks at the top now are those that got promoted during the Harper years — that means that they were rewarded for stifling dissent, keeping the lid on, muzzling the staff. These are not the people who can deliver an activist foreign policy agenda or bring us the kind of creative, imaginative policy leadership that’s going to be required. It’s a bit like asking a patient that has been on life support and in a coma for 10 years to get up and run a marathon. It just can’t happen.”

“There’s a big disconnect at the moment between the Trudeau government’s ambitions and the senior levels of leadership in Global Affairs Canada.”

The impression of inertia is echoed from inside ‘Fort Pearson.’

One Global Affairs Canada executive who preferred not to be named told OpenCanada the message from the political class has been “very clear about: ‘We want to free you so that you can fly.’”

But, “there’s a hesitation at senior levels of the bureaucracy.”

The executive pointed, by way of example, to everyday issues that seemed like things an assistant deputy minister should be able to address: “So you talk to the ADM, and they’re not sure what authority they now have, and they kind of err on the side of caution.”

“We used to have in this department very strong, sometimes quite eccentric senior officials, like [former Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom] Jeremy Kinsman. These people were not necessarily very by-the-book when it came to all the admin and process stuff, but they had views, opinions, and they helped drive a governmental agenda. I don’t sense that now — I sense that maybe the type of people who have been put in behave as managers more than leaders…kind of more [focused on] process, management, a lot of administration.”

The idea of a focus on process over substance is one that comes up repeatedly in conversation with former members of the service.

Valerie Percival, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, worked for the department early in her career. “Over the years it’s become abundantly clear to me that it doesn’t really matter what you do, it matters how you do it,” Percival said. “It’s all about process, all about oiling the wheels of the machine. It’s not really about tangible results.”

As a result, according to Percival, the individuals who move up through the ranks are those who know how to work the system, rather than those with the most relevant CV.

Not one of us

Percival takes issue with the appointment of senior officials without international experience, pointing out that the current deputy minister of Global Affairs, Ian Shugart — while a respected and accomplished civil servant — has never been a diplomat or served in other capacities internationally. “Living and working abroad improves your analytical skills and heightens your diplomatic abilities. This experience is valued in the diplomatic services of other countries — it should matter to Canada.”

Shugart is a post-Harper appointee, made deputy minister by Trudeau in May 2016, having previously held senior government positions in health and environment portfolios. Speaking to OpenCanada, he offered a spirited defence of the idea that managers without foreign service experience can still make significant contributions to the department.

“I think it is not fair to say that, as a general rule, the department is more focused on process, rather than substance. I have not seen that,” he said. “The world of trade negotiations, the world of multilateral diplomacy — the reality is that these things are, of necessity, process-heavy.”

Shugart emphasized that in a 21st century world, managers who come from various fields or different arms of government can be extremely valuable. “I came to this department knowing from hard personal experience an awful lot about global health. Why? Because I did it,” he said. “I came to this department knowing an awful lot about one of the top current issues, interestingly enough, that the government is facing: climate change. Why? Through hard personal experience in international, multilateral climate change negotiations.”

“I’m not just an import from some other department, as a senior deputy minister. Do I know the details of international diplomacy? No, but I know some things that some people in this department don’t know, and it’s useful for them to have access to that.”

Many foreign service officers place great importance on the time served abroad by those in their senior ranks. Graham is of this school of thought, especially when it comes to leaders understanding the particular kind of lifestyle challenges that come with serving abroad. “What about all of the issues that arise about life in difficult circumstances, problems of kids, problems of spouses?” he asked. “People who have not experienced this — it’s not to say that they’re clowns or indifferent, but it is not the same if you don’t know it.”

Dann said that when she arrived in Sao Paulo in her late 20s, her boss at the time took her under his wing and took an interest in her professional development. “I don’t get the feeling that happens the same [way] anymore,” she said, after observing young officers through her work teaching courses on protocol and networking at the Canadian Foreign Service Institute. “You need people at senior levels who are themselves professional foreign service officers.”


Credit: Sami Chouhdary

The previous service of senior officials aside, there is a perception that excessive caution and lack of imagination have seeped down the ranks of a service whose purpose is meant to be the offering of fearless advice.

Inside 125 Sussex Drive, the executive who asked not to be named says a period of restrained ambition may account for a tendency towards self-censorship that has also affected newer entrants to the service.

“I thought well, maybe it’s because their whole experience in government has been waiting to be tasked with doing something, as opposed to, this is the framework the government has proposed, but now they want the bureaucracy and the foreign service specifically to step forward and find opportunities.”

“But also I think for young people maybe it was that nobody had said to them: ‘Think big, come up with ideas. The worst thing that can happen is it won’t go anywhere, because it just isn’t the right time, or there aren’t resources to support it or whatever.’”

The deputy minister offered a careful response to each of the frustrations expressed by those within and without his department.

“What appears to be a failure to think outside the box is, sometimes, you look at the substance of the issue and the constraints, and there really is very little that one can do. You continue to think about possibilities, and it is true that sometimes people need to be nudged or shoved to think more creatively. I think that’s a tendency that we always have to be alive to.”

Shugart said the burden for shifting the department’s culture onto the front foot ultimately rests with senior managers within the foreign service.

“Sometimes it may be true that the political arm of the government will constrain the policy options,” he said, “but other times, it doesn’t matter what stripe of government it is, it’s the foreign service itself, it’s the bureaucracy, it’s the institution — sometimes vested interests within the institution — that are thinking very conventionally themselves.”

An unattainable ideal

Of course, the sentiment often heard from long-serving officers and retirees that the foreign service needs to return to a more professional body and embrace an ‘elite’ status may in part be a byproduct of the realities of operating in a different, information-saturated world.

For some context, OpenCanada turned to the head of the historical section at Global Affairs Canada, Greg Donaghy, co-author of a new book on the department under Pierre Trudeau. He says that while there “is a small kernel of truth in some of this stuff” — for example, that process is valued over substance — many diplomats are yearning for an environment that doesn’t exist anymore.

“If you go back to the 1940s and 1950s, people made their careers on dispatches from missions and policy briefs. Robert Ford, our guy in Moscow in the 1950s, wrote a series of really compelling reports on the post-Stalin Soviet Union and what Canada and Western policy should be. Mike Pearson read them, they shaped his view, and shaped Canadian policy towards the Soviet Union for a couple decades. That’s the way you made your reputation.”

Nowadays, when emails are sent instantaneously and communications are 24/7, “people aren’t sitting down to read 30-page dispatches anymore,” Donaghy said. “So where does a successful person have an impact? In a committee meeting, moving something up the ladder, being able to adjust new policy prescriptions to the tenor of the times, or shaping policy that meets the needs of the minister, and doing that in a quick briefing note.”

Donaghy recalled that former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Bob Fowler once told him that he made his money “in the 10 minutes from the airport to the meeting.”

“He had the minister or the deputy or the prime minister, and that’s where he’d give his pitch. Process guy. He’s not sitting down the way Robert Ford did, to write a 30-page reflection on the state of poetry in the Soviet Union and what that meant for Canada.”

Who should serve

Aside from differing reflections on how the role of diplomats may have changed over the decades, there is a heated battle underway within Global Affairs over who should serve.

“If you were to look at the department in 1950, it would be 90 percent foreign service officers,” Donaghy said. “That’s simply not the case anymore.”

Indeed, out of a total of 10,020 employees working for Global Affairs Canada, the number of foreign service officers stands at 1,174.

PAFSO, which represents employees with the foreign service, or ‘FS’, designation, has been at loggerheads with management for the past three years over a set of demands that include formally ensuring these staff have priority for assignments abroad.

“What we’re seeing now is that, more and more, non-career diplomats, non-career foreign service officers are filling those positions — the stat is something like 20 percent,” Kologie said. “That’s concerning to us, because the intent of the foreign service was to develop a corps of excellence, where foreign service officers would spend half of their career abroad, come back and go abroad again. When that 20 percent, and it’s creeping up there, is introduced, we’re spending less time abroad. We did an internal survey and foreign service officers have told us 48 percent of them struggled to actually get abroad.”

“Diplomacy isn’t ‘get a smart person, add water and stir.’”

This is partly a turf battle. But it is also a central bone of contention in the running debate about who should serve.

The need for a ‘professional’ foreign service is one Dann brought up many times in conversation. “Diplomacy isn’t ‘get a smart person, add water and stir,’” she said. “There are lots of smart people, for expert files, science behind climate change, etc. — okay fine, get them in on a single assignment or for a period of time, or even to be experts within the larger diplomatic corps. But you need in a country a professionally trained, professionally identified, constant corps of people who are diplomats.”

This view of foreign affairs as the exclusive preserve of a career corps of officers is not shared by the deputy minister, particularly when it comes to the most senior roles.

“I affirm the right, and I would even say the responsibility, of the government of Canada to decide who will be the representative of Canada around the world. Sometimes they make decisions that enrich our capacity around the world, [choosing] people who bring skills and experience and understanding that professional FS officers, brilliant as they may be, will never have to the same degree,” Shugart said.

“Now, the core of our international representation in my view has to be the FS. It’s got to have depth, and it’s got to have breadth of experience, and we’ve got to provide a career path to our foreign service officers. If we want to attract the best, and want to develop and retain the best, we’ve got to be able to provide people with a career path. But that, in my view, does not mean that senior appointments and senior international appointments have to be reserved for foreign service officers,” he added.

This does not just hold true for the senior ranks. Shugart concedes the distinction between a foreign service officer and someone without the FS designation doing foreign work for the department is blurring.

“I think compared to the past it’s true that it’s a somewhat more elastic concept, in that people who come from the development stream or the trade stream or the traditional foreign service, which is more, you could use the synonym ‘diplomats,’ all have access to postings and so on,” Shugart said.

In reality, Shugart said, at Canada’s missions abroad, “people from immigration, the security agencies, the defence attaché, the development team, and so on…are all working together as a team.”

“And while we fully recognize and maintain the, you might call it, business lines or practices of these specialized communities — development and trade and diplomacy — organizationally they are together in one department for the purpose of ensuring that Canada acts with all its instruments in a coherent and coordinated way internationally.”

Boosting morale

When it comes to the foreign service’s esprit de corps, present and former officers aren’t shy about offering up their suggestions for reforms that would, in their view, bolster morale and the service itself. Ideas range from a shift in hiring and promotions practices — reinstating official language training to widen the pool of applicants, increasing job security by relying less on temporary contracts, or making it easier for new intakes to get abroad more quickly, for example — to revisiting the 1973 relocation of the department and moving it closer to the newly renamed Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council on Wellington Street.

As Percival and others noted, it will be up to the Trudeau government to articulate its foreign policy vision in a way that inspires the foreign service to go deep on substance. A large part of why Axworthy had notable successes as a foreign minister was that he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish. But day-to-day, enduring changes to the foreign service and the department as a whole will need to come from senior leadership within Global Affairs Canada.

And despite a proliferation of NGOs, think tanks and country experts, the case for personal diplomacy in the 21st century is made convincingly and robustly by those who have seen it at work.

“You can’t bomb Ebola, you can’t call in an air strike on a warming climate, or send out an expeditionary force to occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy,” Copeland said. “Our only chance is to talk our way out of these problems. That’s the province of diplomacy.”

Current Canadian diplomats from Atlanta to Australia would agree. Louise Blais, Canada’s consul general in Atlanta, says that in anticipation of NAFTA renegotiations, her staff has been part of the Trudeau government’s coordinated campaign to utilize policymakers at all levels to emphasize to key American players how closely intertwined the two countries are economically.

“At the end of the day, we open doors for our government…leveraging those personal relationships that we are paid to develop on the ground,” she said. “You look at how they’ve recruited [Brian] Mulroney, but they also have us.”

Blais gave the example of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s secretary of agriculture, who was reportedly instrumental in urging the president not to withdraw from NAFTA. Blais said Perdue is “a good friend to the consulate. We have worked with him closely — just last year, we awarded him the governor general’s award, I have his personal phone number. You can’t buy [that kind of relationship].”

Angela Bogdan, the Canadian consul general to Sydney, said that it’s important for Canada to address any “diplomatic deficit” left over from years of cuts under the Harper government.

She underlines the opportunity embedded in the current historical moment, with heightened uncertainty about an international order that has fewer champions.

“Never before have I seen the Canada brand be so embraced and emulated — this government and this prime minister have really propelled Canada as a brand on the international stage,” Bogdan said.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to use this to full effect, not just for the sake of prosperity at home, but in terms of promoting the values systems that we hold dear, the kind of inclusive approach to diversity, refugees, tolerance on LGBTI issues…We’ve never been better positioned to advance Canada’s agenda, and we want to have the tools and the resources to use that to full effect.”


Though many would say the foreign service, and the department itself, have a ways to go to build themselves back up to the fabled ‘golden age,’ Canada’s diplomatic corps has been constantly recreating itself throughout its short history, and will continue to do so, wherever its headquarters happen to be stationed — whether on Sussex Drive or once again a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill.

Donaghy emphasized that the ‘golden age’ of Canadian diplomacy can refer to various periods throughout the 20th century, depending on who is doing the reminiscing. He noted there are two forces at work when foreign service officers look back wistfully at the past: one is the “spectre of golden-ageism” and the other is a “culture of complaint.”

“I think they’re both true but neither reflects what is actually happening — which is that the department is changing in response to shifts at home and abroad,” Donaghy said.

“The fact that you get these reoccurring golden ages suggests that [the department] is pretty good at doing this, because if it wasn’t, it would be a recurring set of dark ages.”

Trump changes the game for diplomacy

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Trump has changed the game for Canadian politicians

by Kaitlin Lee Jul 21, 2017 at 7:41 am PDT

(Source: Twitter/Justin Trudeau)

The Trudeau effort to establish a very good working relationship with Donald Trump has actually paid off: analyst

Donald Trump is the least popular American president in 70 years: poll

CALGARY (NEWS 1130) – He’s been in the White House for six months, but Canadian politicians are still figuring out how to navigate the waters of his presidency.

Donald Trump is the least popular American president in 70 years, according to a recent Washington Post poll, and the most active ever on Twitter.

Colin Robertson, Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, said our leaders have had to step up and play the game the way Americans play it, but we’ve found more allies than expected.

“There’s a lot of people who see value and gain from the current North American Free Trade Agreement, particularly in the farm community and that’s what, I think, convinced Trump at 100 days, not to just completely tear up the agreement,” he says.

Robertson said Trump’s unpredictability has posed a challenge for countries around the world.

“We’re going in one direction on climate, and Mr. Trump has basically called a dead stop — California, which is, of course, bigger both in population and economic power than Canada. They are very much in tandem with where we’re going, as are a number of other states,” he says.

When it comes to the head of state, Canada’s prime minister has approached with caution.

“I think the Trudeau effort to establish a very good working relationship with Donald Trump has actually paid off. He’s avoided confrontation,” he says. “When he’s spoken to the president, in fact, he’s said more frequently than he spoke to Barack Obama by telephone, the president has carried through.”

In fact, working with the Trump administration has brought together Canadian politicians for the greater good.

“We’re finding there’s broad unanimity, regardless of political stripe,” he said. “Whether it’s Premier Notley or Premier Wall, or any of the others, they’ve all been down there, (and) that strengthens the Canadian hand going into these negotiations.”

Robertson’s new report suggests Canada still need to step up on a global scale.

“We are going to have to move in to that gap, particularly in areas where the Americans under Trump are pulling out and that would include climate, that would include support for international organizations,” he says.

He also said more effort needs to be put in to reducing reliance on the US.

“You can’t change geography, nor would we want to — having preferred access to the United States will always be a top priority for Canada, but that doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t be seeking to diversify,” he says.

Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft

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Trump’s ‘influential’ pick for ambassador to Canada faces Senate hearing

Kelly Knight Craft donated $265K to Trump campaign committee in 2016

By Matt Kwong, CBC News Posted: Jul 20, 2017 5:00 AM ETLast Updated: Jul 20, 2017 9:27 AM ET

U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for the next ambassador to Canada, a deep-pocketed Republican donor with influential allies in Congress and family ties with a Kentucky coal empire, faces her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.

Kelly Knight Craft will testify before the Senate committee on foreign relations in a joint session with Trump’s nominees for ambassador to NATO and the U.K.

Craft and her husband, billionaire coal-mining magnate Joe Craft, donated about $265,000 to a committee backing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. She announced her support for Trump after getting assurances that he wouldn’t bump House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from their roles.

Maryscott Greenwood, who is the senior adviser to the Canadian American Business Council and knows Craft personally through mutual friends, calls her nomination a “terrific” choice.

kelly knight craft UN

Craft addresses the United Nations about U.S. engagement in Africa in 2007. President George W. Bush chose her as an alternate delegate to the UN. (Courtesy of Glasgow Daily Times)

Craft “brings a Southern charm that Gordon Giffin and David Wilkins also had,” she said, referring to two previous ambassadors to Canada.

“She’s quite impressive. Canadians will see that when they get a first chance to hear her in her own words.”

With more than $700 billion in two-way trade of goods and services between Canada and the U.S., along with issues regarding cross-border security and energy, “the deeper our ambassador’s connections with policy-makers, the better able she is to navigate this huge, complicated relationship,” Greenwood said.

Those connections with the White House and key members of Congress could prove very beneficial to Canada, experts say, particularly as Ottawa braces for U.S. tax reform and “Buy American” rules for a $1-trillion infrastructure plan that could lock out Canadian firms.


David Wilkins was a close family friend of George W. Bush when he was appointed ambassador to Canada. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

“The importance of the ambassador, really, is how close to the administration is she or he?” said Derek Burney, Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 1989 to 1993.

“She must have the confidence of the president to get this appointment. And if she has the ear of the president, that’s good for us.”

Her appointment would come at a crucial time. On Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released a blueprint of objectives for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Formal talks are scheduled to begin Aug. 16.

It’s in the interests of Canada and the U.S. to have that “point person” on site as soon as possible, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

“The ambassador acts as the quarterback in the field. With the release of the U.S. objectives for NAFTA, it’s very important that the Americans have an ambassador in Ottawa that can feed back into the United States the reaction of the Canadians.”

Joe Craft

Craft, right, with her husband, Joe Craft, a billionaire coal-mining magnate who has criticized former president Barack Obama’s climate policies. (Courtesy of Glasgow Daily Times)

One potential area of tension for Craft in Canada’s capital could be her strong links to the coal sector, said Elliot Tepper, a distinguished senior fellow with Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa.

“What’s clear is that her interests in regard to the coal industry are in sync with the American administration, but out of sync with the Canadian government at the moment,” Tepper said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced plans last November to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030. Meanwhile, Trump has pledged to revive coal jobs in the U.S.

Craft’s husband is the CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, one of the largest coal producers in the eastern U.S. He has questioned the science and dangers of climate change, diverging from Canada’s position.

But Tepper said such factors are mitigated by the fact Canada has already gone through a six-month period of adjustment with its primary strategic and diplomatic trading partner.

‘Quick and without controversy’

Potential political differences with Canada aside, when lawmakers question Craft at Thursday morning’s joint session, her testimony should go smoothly, aided by a Republican majority on the committee.

Hearings for the Canadian ambassador post are typically “quick and without controversy,” following some warm remarks and introductions, said Robertson, who attended the hearings for former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

“I suspect all the ducks are lined up and her hearing will go quickly, and that she’ll be confirmed early next week,” the former diplomat said.

Craft previously ran a marketing consulting firm. In 2007, she was appointed as an alternate to the United Nations by President George W. Bush, advising on U.S. engagement in Africa.

U.S. ambassadorships to Canada are considered plum postings, typically not awarded to career diplomats but to key fundraisers who have the confidence of the president and may be well connected in Washington.

Wilkins, a South Carolina lawyer, was a top Republican donor and close family friend of George W. Bush. The most recent ambassador, Bruce Heyman, helped raise more than $1 million for Barack Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2011 and 2012.

Bruce Heyman

Bruce Heyman, a Barack Obama appointee, resigned as ambassador to Canada back in January because Trump wanted to name his own ambassadors. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Heyman resigned on Jan. 20, heeding Trump’s State Department instructions for ambassadors to clear house by inauguration day so he could name his own envoys.

While Craft has been active in philanthropy and also served on the University of Kentucky’s board of trustees, Tepper said little is known about her diplomatic or political skills.

“We know that she’s influential. What we do not know is if she has the requisite communication and diplomatic skills,” he said. “That will be tested during the confirmation hearings.”

Global Trump at Six Months

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Six Months of Trump:  What are the lessons learned as Canada heads into NAFTA negotiations


July 19, 2017

CALGARY- The University of Calgary School of Public Policy and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute today release a report that examines the first six months of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. The paper looks at the Trump approach, asks is there an emerging Trump doctrine, and offers some perspectives on the Trump Administration’s global policies after six months. According to author Colin Robertson, a Fellow of the School of Public Policy and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute:

Canada will have to actively engage with Congress, the states and the private and public interests that drive the American agenda. We will also have to put more effort and contribute more to the rules-based order of which we have been a beneficiary.  Traditional statecraft is based on predictability and stability, both hallmarks of U.S. post-war foreign policy practised by both Democrats and Republicans. Predictable, Mr. Trump is not. The deliberation and careful planning that characterized the Obama administration have been replaced by Mr. Trump’s reliance on gut and instinct. Such unpredictability will continue to create heartburn inside foreign chancelleries, whether friend or foe.”


Where once the USA was prepared to cover the spread on trade and security, under Donald Trump there will be more take than give. Now, Canada and the allies will have to make their own investments in hard power to preserve collective security. But less dependence and reliance on US leadership and more collective responsibility would be a good thing.


Middle powers, like Canada, will have to step up their diplomacy, both collective and individual. Focusing on their own niche capacities they will have to shore up the space left by Trump Administration decisions on climate, migration and at the international institutions that sustain the rules-based order. Ironically, one effect of the Trump presidency may be to make the western alliance stronger.


The text follows. The report can also be found online at

America First:

The Global Trump at Six Months




For Donald Trump ‘America First’ means ‘America First.’ Canada and like-minded nations will have to get used to it.


Canada will have to actively engage with Congress, the states and the private and public interests that drive the American agenda. We will also have to put more effort and contribute more to the rules-based order of which we have been a beneficiary.


Traditional statecraft is based on predictability and stability, both hallmarks of U.S. post-war foreign policy practised by both Democrats and Republicans. Predictable, Mr. Trump is not. The deliberation and careful planning that characterized the Obama administration have been replaced by Mr. Trump’s reliance on gut and instinct. Such unpredictability will continue to create heartburn inside foreign chancelleries, whether friend or foe.


Where once the USA was prepared to cover the spread on trade and security, under Donald Trump there will be more take than give. Now, Canada and the allies will have to make their own investments in hard power to preserve collective security. But less dependence and reliance on US leadership and more collective responsibility would be a good thing.


Middle powers, like Canada, will have to step up their diplomacy, both collective and individual. Focusing on their own niche capacities they will have to shore up the space left by Trump Administration decisions on climate, migration and at the international institutions that sustain the rules-based order. Ironically, one effect of the Trump presidency may be to make the western alliance stronger.



President Donald Trump: A ‘Spectacle of Excess’


In action and words, President Donald Trump, like Candidate Donald Trump, continues to demonstrate a “spectacle of excess.”


Blunt and abrasive, bombastic and brash, Donald Trump is an insurgent. He campaigned as the champion of America’s “forgotten men and women” and his “America First” policy draws unabashedly on nativism, populism and protectionism.


Since taking office, President Trump has acted on many of his specific pledges, drawing frequently on his executive powers.


Executive orders suspended immigration from seven Muslim countries (although were promptly overturned by judges). Executive orders approved construction of both the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Executive orders rolled back president Obama’s Clean Power Plan, replacing it with President Trump’s Energy Independence Policy.


Another set of orders withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), ordered the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and opened a 90-day investigation in America’s trade deficits with 16 countries (including Canada).


Trump’s first budget proposals increased spending for defence and homeland security, while cutting funding for the environment, diplomacy and most other agencies.


Neither the discipline of power, nor convention, nor political correctness matters to Donald Trump.


The Trump cabinet is whiter, wealthier, older and more male than those of George W. Bush or Barack Obama. It has an unusually high representation of “billionaires and generals.”


The presidency has done nothing to temper Donald Trump’s bombast or brash behaviour. The mainstream media and its “fake news” gets the back of his hand. While Mr. Trump’s supporters may give him a pass in the short-term eventually the lies and theatrics will wear thin.  As Elaine Kamarck, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, observes:
“President Trump has consistently behaved in ways that undermine his own self-interest. Take the Russia issue. It is entirely possible that he is completely innocent. But almost everything he has said or done since the election undermines that possibility, and reminds one of that old saying: where there’s smoke there’s fire. Moreover, he has consistently said things that are not true — like that Obama had him wiretapped or that his Electoral College victory was the biggest since Ronald Reagan. Following these tweets or statements, he inexplicably has stood by them in the face of no evidence. He repeatedly seems to go out of his way to make enemies, not friends, by attacking the press and reporters personally. There have also been times when his words in front of a group have been completely inappropriate.”


Donald Trump’s diplomatic approach is unlike any other US president, confounding America’s traditional friends and allies.


Autocrats appear to get a pass if not an embrace. After Turkey’s referendum, Mr. Trump congratulated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the only western leader to do so. He lavished praise on General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s military leader. He backed Marine LePen and the far right in the French elections. His first official visit took him to Saudi Arabia where he lauded its theocratic rulers and those of the Gulf nations. He treated Chinese President Xi Jing-ping at Mar-a-Lago and gave Russian President Vladimir Putin more time than any other leader at the G-20.


Allies have not had the same treatment. When the conversation turned sour, he reportedly “hung up” on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a Washington visit after Mr. Trump tweeted that “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” He refused to shake hands with Angela Merkel, the democratically elected leader of Germany whom The Economist magazine once described as the “Indispensable European”. He tweeted abuse at the mayor of London after that city’s terrorist attacks. Arriving at the NATO summit in Brussels he lambasted the allies for not paying their dues.


The Trump approach comes with a cost. After the G7 and NATO meetings, Conservative pundit David Frum tweeted: “Since 1945, the supreme strategic goal in Europe of the USSR and then Russia was the severing of the U.S.-German alliance. Trump delivered.”


Then there are the lies.


After a hundred days in office the Washington Post catalogued 492 false or misleading claims, following on the 59 Four-Pinocchio ratings Donald Trump earned as a presidential candidate. The New York Times is still keeping a list believing that “as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them.” By design or accident, his tweets, whoppers and pronouncements keep him at the forefront of the media cycle.


To the consternation of his critics, it delights his supporters whose support remains strong. But at some point, the public is likely to become fatigued and long for a return to stable government.

A Trump Doctrine?

Promising to “make America great again,” Donald Trump told GOP delegates at his Cleveland nomination convention that “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo” because only then will Americans “get the respect that we deserve.” He promised to rebuild America’s defence establishment saying: “we don’t want to have a depleted military because we’re all over the place fighting in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in. It’s not going to be depleted any longer.”


Throughout the campaign and then in his “thank-you” stops after his election, Mr. Trump was emphatic about keeping American forces out of foreign wars, saying that “we will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.” Instead he said, “our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS, and we will.”


Now, President Trump faces hard decisions around increasing the military commitment in Afghanistan and continuing to sustain the effort in Iraq and Syria.

Since his Inaugural Address, his speech to the people of Poland has provided the most insight into President Trump’s global perspective. In asking a series of questions in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square (July 6, 2017), he  returned to the dark “carnage in America” theme of his Inaugural Address :

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

In their Wall Street Journal column ‘America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone’ (May 30, 2017), National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn write that while the US is “asking a lot of our allies and partners… in return America will once again be a true friend to our partners and the worst foe to our enemies.”

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis spoke (June 2, 2017) in a similar vein when he said at the Shangri-la Security Dialogue in Singapore: “we have a deep and abiding commitment to reinforcing the rules-based international order”.

In speaking to State Department employees, Secretary Rex Tillerson observed that the ‘America First’ policy “doesn’t mean it comes at the expense of others. Our partnerships and our alliances are critical to our success … but we’ve got to bring them back into balance.”

Unlike the often lengthy deliberation practised by the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration is not reluctant to act quickly.


The intervention in Syria was the Administration’s first major military initiative. President Trump said he found the pictures of gassed children choking to death “reprehensible” and insisted they “cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”


Secretary Tillerson and General MacMaster argued that the Trump administration would be “willing to act when governments and actors cross the line” and that the “strike itself was proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack”.


General McMaster observed that they had “weighed the risk associated with any military action, but we weighed that against the risk of inaction … which is the risk of (these) continued, egregious, inhumane attacks on innocent civilians with chemical weapons.”


The Obama administration was accused of dithering and over-deliberating before taking action. This is not likely to apply to the Trump administration. Rather it would do well to heed Talleyrand’s advice to leaders: ‘Surtout, pas trop de zele’ (Above all, not too much zeal).


Bloomberg’s Margaret Telev observed that the Trump approach at the G7 and NATO summit “was calibrated by the White House to show … to a domestic audience, as well as to Europe, that President Trump is not going to abandon every position that he held from the campaign just because he is here in these meetings, but, at the same time, there was a recognition from his aides that the more he engages with key allies all over the world, the more nuance is brought to the table in terms of him understanding the leadership role that the U.S. is expected to fulfill and the complexities of those obligations.”


Looking at the Trump administration after five months, Elliott Abrams, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — whose appointment as deputy secretary at the State Department was nixed by Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon — observed: “this is not a revolutionary administration. The broad lines of its policy fit easily within those of the last few decades. Trump might not be a conventional president, but so far, his foreign policy has been remarkably unremarkable.” Perhaps.


Concluding Observations


President Donald Trump is unconventional and unpredictable. On the road, his blend of bravado, bullying, and bluster fits easily into the stereotypical characterization of the “ugly American.”


But as Prime Minister Trudeau, who has managed his relationship as well as any foreign leaders, observes: “I have always found that whenever he has made an engagement to me or a commitment to me on the phone or in person, he followed through on that, and that is someone you can work with,”


To understand Donald Trump, one needs to read his 1987 book Trump: The Art of the Deal, which chronicles his various business deals in his successful effort to build a real estate empire. It underlines his preference for bilateral negotiations (third parties, he writes, are unnecessary complications, which result in leaving money on the table). Think big and, as Mr. Trump writes, “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”  Those negotiating with the Trump Administration, including Canadian and Mexicans who will soon begin re-negotiatio of the NAFTA,  should keep this in mind.


There is a tendency among new administrations, especially with a change in party, to vilify and repudiate the policies of their predecessors. This danger is magnified in the Trump administration. Assuming malfeasance and error, on the part of their predecessor, leads to over-correction. The repudiation of the Paris Climate Accord is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.


Nuance is not President Trump’s thing. In language, tone and application, Donald Trump’s international policy pronouncements on big issues like climate, migration, trade and on the utility of multilateralism are an abrupt departure from post-war American policy. But it is not by its rhetoric that the Trump administration should be judged, but rather its actions.


Here the record is less dogmatic and there is more evidence of continuity than of change in foreign policy: the intervention in Syria to preserve international norms on chemical warfare; confrontations with Russia over its lack of accountability; pragmatism towards China; and the re-embracing of the value of NATO and of collective defence, a 180-degree shift from Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric, albeit with an emphasis on allies pulling their weight in terms of sharing the burden.


There is more reliance on muscle, almost theatrically so.


There was the highly publicized dropping in April 2017 of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, and the May 2017 launching of missiles against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian air base as “after-dinner entertainment” while Mr. Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. President Trump has told North Korea it has “gotta behave.” Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet secretaries James Mattis and Rex Tillerson have all echoed the warning to North Korea that “all options are on the table,” pointing to the “strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan.”


All new administrations have their pratfalls, but during the first six months of the Trump administration, rarely a day goes by without some controversy and they are not helped by Mr. Trump’s tweets.


If Mr. Trump’s administration is unpredictable, it is not entirely capricious.


On the details of an issue, even hot-button items like waterboarding, for example, or providing explanations on a crisis like the Syrian intervention, President Trump says he will defer to his cabinet officers (although, he will also sometimes go his own way, as he demonstrated with his refusal to explicitly underline U.S. support for NATO’s Article 5 at the Brussels summit). He is much more a CEO than a micro-manager.


As the Trump administration approaches six months in office there has been consistency with campaign promises around the decisions to withdraw from the TPP, to freeze the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, to renegotiate NAFTA, and to pull out of the Paris climate accord.


There is clearer definition on its policies: trade – protectionist; energy – drill and burn fossil fuels; climate – repudiation; defence – more money; and the rest of government – less money. To secure U.S. energy independence, the energy team is carrying through on the campaign promise of “drill, baby, drill” and repeal of Obama era environmental regulation.


There have been shifts: on NATO (now for it) and China (now more friend than enemy since the Xi-Trump Mar-a-Lago summit) while the warm words during the campaign for Vladimir Putin have been tempered by events. Where once the US led across the board, there are now deep divisions with its closest allies on climate, on trade, on migration, on the utility of multilateralism.


There is still much to be determined: an approach to Africa or Latin America and the rest of Asia (beyond China and North Korea); involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; an Iran policy; and functional policies, for example, on cybersecurity and human rights.


The trade team, led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House Trade Director Peter Navarro, is mercantilist and anti-China. They want to do more enforcement on the trade scofflaws and, at the same time, re-negotiate the various trade pacts, beginning with NAFTA. Their challenge will be their capacity to cope with all the hares they have set running, including acting on the executive orders on trade deficits, steel and aluminum and Hire American and Buy American.


Too much decision-making appears to be done on the run. The White House media briefings are chaotic and vitriolic. There is no appearance of order and deliberation.


All new administrations endure initial jostling for position by the main players for place and standing. In this Administration, the appearance is that the elbows are sharper and the divisions increasingly personal. Until the full team is in place, figuring out who is up and who is down, and where and how decisions are made is difficult.


While the cabinet is in place, most of the supporting cast of deputies, assistants and deputy assistant secretaries are still to be named let alone confirmed. As of July 4, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, nominees for just 46 out of 561 key jobs in the Trump administration had been confirmed by the Senate, and there are still no nominees for 384 positions.


The liberal-based international order has always relied on its guardian, the United States to be the adult in the room. U.S. allies are beginning to say publicly what they say to themselves in private: that a Trump-led America is not a reliable ally.


Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland recently observed in outlining the contours of her government’s foreign policy that while the U.S. has “truly been the indispensable nation,” it may be tiring of “global leadership.” Canada and like-minded, middle-power nations will have to step up in defence of the rules-based liberal international system.


Keeping balance and preserving stability during Trump times will be a test for diplomacy and diplomatic services the world over.

Full Court Press on USA

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‘Full court press’ by ministers, Trudeau ahead of NAFTA negotiations

An active cabinet is key to Canada’s new approach to U.S. relations, say former diplomats, current Parliamentarians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during a Q&A session with governors after his keynote address to the National Governors Association last week in Providence, R.I.Photograph courtesy of the PMO

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, July 19, 2017 12:00 AM

Canada’s “full court press” on U.S. relations is one coordinated from the top and taken up by MPs of all political stripes ahead of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations expected to begin next month.

“Our strategy is quite simply to work at all levels. We are doing everything reasonably possible to expand our relationship with the United States at every level,” said Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), who is co-chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group.

He, like other Canadian officials, pushed back against reports that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) is going around Donald Trump’s White House, pointing to the bilateral meeting with vice-president Mike Pence that coincided with Mr. Trudeau’s speech to governors on July 14 in Rhode Island.

“We continue to work constructively with the Trump administration and with the United States Congress to advance mutual interests as well as our strong and prosperous partnership,” said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), in an emailed statement.

Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, there have been more than 175 visits and “300 individual contacts” with senior U.S. officials and Canadian cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries, premiers and provincial and territorial ministers and Parliamentarians, according to data sent Monday by Ms. Freeland’s office.

Some 28 cabinet ministers and five parliamentary secretaries represent 95 of those interactions. Meetings have been with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, 17 U.S. cabinet members, 200 members of Congress, and more than 45 governors and lieutenant governors, with numbers expected to grow in the coming weeks, the office added. Washington represented the vast majority of meetings with 78, followed by New York with 18, and several spots in California made up eight visits.


U.S. NAFTA objectives released

Monday’s late-day announcement of negotiating objectives for the NAFTA by the United States Trade Representative started the next phase of the NAFTA talks, said Paul Frazer, a former high-level diplomat at Canada’s embassy in Washington.

“At this stage we can guess about the public role many in the Congress will choose to have. All-in-all I am confident that the Canadian advocacy work in the U.S. will need to be maintained and adjusted where necessary,” said Mr. Frazer, president of PD Frazer Associates who advises clients on cross-border issues.

“Including deficit reduction as a U.S. goal signals that the president and his rhetoric will unavoidably be prominent; Ottawa and Mexico City will have to manage two tracks: the negotiation itself and the impact of the president’s actions/statements over the course of the negotiations.”

Export Action Global principal Adam Taylor highlighted several areas that “provide a key line of sight into the Trump administration’s thinking,” including: its fixation on trade deficits; sensitivities in agricultural trade; enshrining ‘Buy American’ policies; and raising Canada’s de minimis threshold, a rule that slaps customs and duties on imported goods worth more than $20.

“While there are very few surprises, it is now clear that one person’s tweak is another’s transformation,” he said by email.

Canada will be ready for negotiations to “modernize NAFTA, while defending Canada’s national interest and standing up for our values,” said Ms. Freeland in a statement Monday.

“Canada is the top customer of the United States. Canada buys more goods from the U.S. than China, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.”

That messaging reflected Mr. Trudeau’s address at the National Governors Association meeting Friday—a first for a Canadian leader.


Personal relationships key to U.S. strategy

Mr. Trudeau’s reception in Providence is one sign that Canada’s message—as America’s “biggest and best” customer—is being noticed, and that the nation is less of an afterthought, said an official in Ms. Freeland’s office who said they could only speak on background.

Standing ovations at the summit, and the number of people who recognized Canada’s prime minister, speak to the work done to build ties recently, the source said.

The month before, Canada sent Andrew Leslie (Orléans, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister, to the Western Governors’ Association meeting.

The official didn’t confirm whether specific ministers were handed regional assignments, as reported by Vice News in May, but said some are a natural fit given their industries, like Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.) connections to Michigan and its established auto and aerospace industries.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said face-to-face interactions were the most effective form of free trade advocacy.

“It’s a contact sport,” said Mr. Robertson. “Personal relationships are everything.”

“There have been a whole series of efforts that [go] beyond traditionally how we approached the administration,” he said, adding there have been more minister-level meetings, such as those between Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) and his counterpart U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin in February and again in June, accompanied by Ms. Freeland.

It was a smart strategy by Ms. Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) to meet with U.S. officials before their respective policy speeches in February, he added. 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) effort to build a relationship with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, the first of Trump’s cabinet to come north, was also crucial, he said.

“The homeland security side is really important, because that’s Trump’s base and so that relationship is very important,” he said, noting Mr. Kelly met with other key ministers.

An unusually large number of American officials are deciding they should make the trip north, Mr. Robertson noted. Recently Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he’d visit Canada this summer, leading a delegation of government and business representatives.

“I can’t think of a time when we’ve had that many in that short a period,” said Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Bains is one Canadian minister who has “undertaken significant outreach,” said spokesman Karl Sasseville—most notably in Michigan, Colorado, and California. And, while Mr. Trudeau was in Rhode Island, Mr. Bains met with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who has also met with Ms. Freeland to discuss issues like softwood and steel.

Mr. Bains has met with business leaders, governors, and other elected officials where he “[insisted] on the mutually-beneficial nature of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship,” said Mr. Sasseville.

The 10 other cabinet offices contacted deferred questions about their minister’s role to Global Affairs Canada’s Mr. Austen.


PMO briefing Parliamentarians

Ms. Freeland accompanied the prime minister to Providence, as did Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose government has fought against Buy American rhetoric, stressing the impact Canada has on various state economies, and warning that protectionist trade measures will harm more than help.

Global Affairs has helped to brief members of the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group attending bilateral meetings with the latest issues and messages from the communications branch of the Prime Minister’s Office, said Mr. Easter,

The PMO has also launched an unprecedented U.S.-relations ‘war room,’ led by Brian Clow, Ms. Freeland’s former chief of staff when she was international trade minister.

Conservative Senator Bob Runciman was among the group in Rhode Island last week, and said he’s also seen more attention paid to Canada-U.S. relations.

“It’s simply more a sense of urgency and a higher priority, given some of the things president Trump has said and veiled threats, if you will, in respect to tearing [NAFTA] up. I think there’s a real full court press,” he said.

He said there’s a real “team feeling” to the meetings, and agreed it was a good idea for Mr. Trudeau to reach out to governors, noting several key cabinet secretaries came from those ranks.