NATO Summit 2021: A Primer

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Canadian Primer to the NATO Summit in Brussels June 14, 2021


Image credit: Vlad Kochelaevskiy/Adobe Stock


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice President and Fellow
June 2021


Table of Contents


Presidents and prime ministers of the thirty NATO nations will meet in Brussels on Monday, June 14. The agenda, for this their 29th summit since the Alliance was formed in 1949, will discuss safeguarding the rules-based order in the face of the rising challenge from China and Russia. NATO operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will also be discussed.


Note map does not include North Macedonia that joined NATO as the 30th ally in 2020.

To “defend”  NATO, says Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, requires “strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones, including in the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America,” in line with NATO’s 2030 ambitions.

For the U.S., which is the biggest contributor to NATO, “deterrence and defense remain NATO’s job number one“. As President Joe Biden said before leaving for a European tour that includes the G7 and EU summits and a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as well as the NATO summit, he wants to ensure that “the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century” will also shape the post-pandemic world.

An important discussion will be around an updated Strategic Concept  to sustain NATO’s technological edge. Discussion will flow from the recent NATO 2030 report. Strengthening readiness and resilience requires securing supply chains, renovating infrastructure, and improving communications.

Defence Expenditures as a share of GDP


Facing destabilizing and malicious cyber activity, there is recognition that NATO’s cyber operations needs attention. In February, Defence Ministers endorsed NATO’s Coherent Implementation Strategy on Emerging and Disruptive Technologies including a security-focused technology hub, what Stoltenberg calls a “defence innovation accelerator”, with private sector partnership. At the Munich Security conference in March, Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed we “join forces in all spheres and regard security as a concept of networked security, of multidimensional security.”

The summit will also “set the gold standard when it comes to understanding and mitigating the security implications of climate change”, says Secretary General Stoltenberg.

The U.S. inevitably dominates these summits, for better or worse. As Biden told the State Department shortly after his inauguration “we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s”. Repairing NATO is central to this objective. The values enunciated in the new Atlantic Charter, signed with Prime Minister Johnson on the eve of the G7 meeting will be reflected in his interventions.  In practical terms, it means support for the NATO 2030 initiative, keeping the alliance strong militarily, making it stronger politically and giving it a more global view.

In his preview of the summit, Secretary General Stoltenberg described a world of growing global competition saying NATO members must strengthen its political consultations; reinforce collective defence through increased readiness, modernize capabilities, and invest; and develop Alliance-wide resilience to make its societies less vulnerable to attack and coercion. This means more money – burden sharing – for joint training and exercises, stronger cyber defences, cutting-edge capabilities, and more capacity-building for partners.

Success at Brussels will be measured not just by the degree of cohesion and camaraderie after the turbulence of the Trump years but on how they deal with the immediate, urgent and future. All are important.

In the immediate and urgent category: Can the Alliance come together with stronger actions on Russia and on China? Are the Europeans, for example, prepared to support with their ships, submarines and aircraft freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea? Do they turn a blind eye to growing illiberal practises in Alliance members Turkey, Hungary and Poland? How do they manage the exit from Afghanistan? Do they stay the course in Iraq? And how does climate fit into their deliberations?

Looking forward, will they agree on a new Strategic Concept that addresses the challenges of technological change as represented by 5G, semiconductors, supply chains, export controls and technology rules and standards. Will we see some of the ‘values’ contained in the new ‘Atlantic Charter’ set forth by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Biden reflected in the NATO communique? Can the EU and U.S. resolve their differences on data protection and big data content?  What about the new battle domains of cyber, hybrid, space and disinformation? Can the Alliance take a collective defence against ransomware attacks and deal with the challenges posed by cryptocurrency?

And then what about that old chestnut: burden-sharing?


What will be Discussed?

Defence Spending

The United States shoulders nearly 70 per cent of the alliance’s operating budget. In terms of GDP the U.S. spent roughly 3.87 per cent on defence in 2020, according to NATO, while the average in European NATO countries and Canada was around 1.78 per cent. U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of Defense have consistently encouraged NATO members to spend more and, while president, Donald Trump mused about quitting NATO over allies’ inability to meet the 2 per cent GDP target for defence spending. While most allies, including Canada, still fall short, NATO defence spending by European allies and Canada has seen seven consecutive years of increases.

Developing a new Strategic Concept

The current Strategic Concept “Active Engagement, Modern Defence”, adopted in 2010, outlines three essential core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security to meet diverse threats including the proliferation of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, terrorism, cyber-attacks and fundamental environmental problems. NATO 2030: United for a New Era, the 67-page report (November, 2020) of the Secretary General’s Reflection Group (that included former Canadian National Security Advisor Greta Bossenmaier) argues for a new strategic concept, drawing from the current concept but taking into account the return of systemic rivalry and the rise of global threats as well as the strains on allied unity. A big piece of the Reflection Group’s report deals with technological change and the need for NATO to catch-up and adapt to emerging and disruptive technologies (EDT). As they argue:

Maintaining a technological edge is the foundation upon which NATO’s ability to deter and defend against potential threats ultimately rests. EDTs pose a fundamental challenge but also—if harnessed correctly—an opportunity for the Alliance. Without a strategic surge in this area, allowing adversaries to gain competitive advantage would impede NATO’s ability to win on the battlefield, challenge strategic stability and change the fundamentals of deterrence, but also offer state and even non-state actors, including eventually terrorists, the potential to threaten our societies from within. They also could undermine NATO’s political cohesion, by raising questions about technology.


The Reflection Group described the China challenge as follows:

The scale of Chinese power and global reach poses acute challenges to open and democratic societies, particularly because of that country’s trajectory to greater authoritarianism and an expansion of its territorial ambitions. For most Allies, China is both an economic competitor and significant trade partner. China is therefore best understood as a full-spectrum systemic rival, rather than a purely economic player or an only Asia-focused security actor. While China does not pose an immediate military threat to the Euro-Atlantic area on the scale of Russia, it is expanding its military reach into the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Arctic, deepening defence ties with Russia, and developing long-range missiles and aircraft, aircraft carriers, and nuclear-attack submarines with global reach, extensive space-based capabilities, and a larger nuclear arsenal. NATO Allies feel China’s influence more and more in every domain. Its Belt and Road, Polar Silk Road, and Cyber Silk Road have extended rapidly, and it is acquiring infrastructure across Europe with a potential bearing upon communications and interoperability.

It recommended NATO take a series of steps including:

  • Increase information-sharing analysis on China within the Alliance;
  • Continue efforts to build resilience and counter cyber-attacks and disinformation that originate in China;
  • Expand efforts to assess the implications for Allies’ security of China’s technology capability development;
  • Invest in its ability to monitor and defend against any Chinese activities that could impact collective defence, military readiness and/or resilience in SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility;
  • Continue to identify vulnerabilities of key sectors and supply chains, in coordination with the EU;
  • Uphold NATO cohesion when Allies engage China bilaterally and through formats such as the 17+1 format and Belt Road Initiative;
  • Adapt to China’s integrated MCF doctrine by encouraging Allies to increase technological and military engagement with Allies more vulnerable to Chinese penetration.

Secretary General Stoltenberg recently observed that while NATO needs to “engage with China on issues like arms control and climate change, and therefore China is not an adversary”, their human rights record and actions in the South China sea is a reminder that  “they don’t share our values.” China is also a potential challenger: it has the second largest defence budget, the largest Navy, they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities including hypersonic weapon systems and they are integrating new disruptive technologies like facial recognition, artificial intelligence and big data into the new weapon systems.


As the NATO chiefs of defence observed after their May meeting, “Russia continues to demonstrate a sustained pattern of destabilising behaviour, including its violations of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Reflection Group recommended NATO should continue the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue, within parameters agreed at the Wales and Warsaw Summits. The Group assessed Russia as follows:

After the end of the Cold War, NATO attempted to build a meaningful partnership with Russia, based on dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. But Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, followed by its ongoing military build-ups and assertive activity in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, in the Eastern Mediterranean, Baltic, and in the High North, have led to a sharp deterioration in the relationship and negatively impacted the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia routinely engages in intimidatory military operations in the immediate vicinity of NATO and has enhanced its reach and capabilities for threatening airspace and freedom of navigation in the Atlantic. It has violated a number of major international commitments and developed an array of conventional and non-conventional capabilities that threaten both the security of individual NATO Allies and the stability and cohesion of the Alliance as a whole. Russia has amply demonstrated its ability and willingness to use military force, and continues to attempt to exploit fissures between Allies, and inside NATO societies. It has also employed chemical weapons on Allied soil, costing civilian lives.


By September NATO will be drawing down its non-combat Resolute Support Mission (RSM), which has been training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces and institutions since January 2015. NATO operations in Afghanistan began after the UN Security Council authorized the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force that operated from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF is NATO’s longest mission employing more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations, including Canada. Canadian Forces left Afghanistan in March 2014 after a twelve-year campaign and the loss of 161 men and women. Canada continues to support a number of programs and activities.


Iraq remains a battle-ground for domestic, regional, and international competition. In May, NATO ministers agreed to expand the alliance’s Iraqi mission.


At their April meeting the NATO-Ukraine Commission “reaffirmed NATO’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity calling on Russia to engage constructively at the OSCE on its military activities.  Secretary General Stoltenberg called on Russia to end its military build-up, stop its provocations, end its support for the militants in eastern Ukraine, and withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory to abide by the Minsk Agreements.


The North Atlantic Council condemned the forced landing of the civilian aircraft in Minsk (23 May) as a violation of international norms and rules, and a direct attack on the freedom of expression and the free and independent press. Some allies now restrict the access of the Belarussian airliner to their airspace and called for an independent international investigation.

Canadian_Primer_NATO3.jpgNATO Readiness

In 2018, NATO defense ministers agreed to the “Four Thirties” initiative, a military readiness plan that now  means the Alliance has 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 navy vessels, ready for deployment in 30 days or less.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine (2014) and intervention in Syria (2015) underline the need for NATO readiness. In practical terms this means a rapid combat-ready expeditionary force with attention to cyber defence and maritime security. As NATO scholar Julian Lindley-French and Admiral (retd) James Stavridis, former SACEUR, argue: “Article 5 collective defence must be modernized and re-organized around cyber-defence, missile defence and the advanced deployable forces vital to contemporary defence.” Military exercises demonstrate shortcomings in NATO’s ability to move forces across Europe, because of bureaucracy (customs officials asking to see passports at borders) and inadequate infrastructure (the bridges, roads and railways that have to handle military transports).

NATO Partners and NATO Expansion

NATO’s partnerships, born out of its 1990 London summit, focused first on the former Soviet bloc nations (many of whom are now full members), then on crisis management in the Balkans, and, since 9-11, on wider partnerships now including more than forty nations around the world – Australia, New Zealand and, as the latest addition, Mongolia. At its peak, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan included 22 partner nations. Partnership does not include the security guarantee of Article 5.  Ukraine and Georgia want membership in NATO and, at the Bucharest summit in 2008, NATO encouraged this. But NATO enlargement is controversial and there is discussion of different architecture to guarantee security. A wise person’s report (2016) commissioned by the Finnish government concluded that Finland and Sweden should stick together, whatever the decision, but that membership would provoke Russia. It described Russia as an “unsatisfied power” that “has made unpredictability a strategic and tactical virtue, underpinned by an impressive degree of political and military agility.”

Countering Terrorism

With its Terrorism Intelligence Cell at NATO HQ, NATO’s Counter-Terrorism Policy Guidelines focus Alliance efforts on three main areas: awareness, capabilities and engagement. NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.


NATO and the EU work on migration, seeking to tackle the root causes and to help stabilize the source countries, including training local forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO is also assisting in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, and through Operation Sea Guardian, to provide help to the EU Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean, with ships and maritime surveillance aircraft.


Public Opinion and NATO

Pew Research Center survey conducted in spring 2021 says citizens hold a positive views of NATO at or near all-time highs across several member states. Americans, who contribute the most to NATO’s annual budget, are at 61 per cent favorable, the same as the overall median across the NATO states surveyed. While Americans are more favorable toward NATO than not, partisans hold very different views of the alliance. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a positive assessment of NATO (77 per cent vs. 44 per cent, respectively).

pan-European survey in November and December 2020 of more than 15,000 people in 11 countries commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations concluded “while most Europeans rejoiced at Joe Biden’s victory in the November U.S. presidential election, they do not think he can help America make a comeback as the pre-eminent global leader.”



While Europeans are happy with Biden’s election, like their leaders, they fear a return of another Donald Trump in four years.



What is NATO?

NATO is a military and political alliance constructed around the principles of collective security, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. It has 30 members including Canada, the United States and most European nations, as well as a host of Euro-Atlantic partner nations. NATO represents half of the world’s economic and military power. As Secretary General Stoltenberg observes, “no other superpower has ever had such a strategic advantage.”

In the wake of the Second World War, the victors set up a series of international institutions. The foremost was the United Nations, and its alphabet soup of agencies – WHO, UNHCR, FAO et al – with universal membership designed to advance human progress and prevent the “scourge of war”. Responding to what Winston Churchill described as the “iron curtain” descending “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”, the western alliance set up a collective security agreement called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In the words of its first secretary general, Lord Ismay, NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in”. Most importantly it’s a collective security agreement – an attack on one would be considered an attack on all (Article 5). NATO was also designed, at Canadian insistence, to have an economic dimension to promote trade, investment, and commerce between the members (Article 2).


The agreement was signed in Washington on April 2, 1949. Its original membership included twelve countries – the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In signing the agreement Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson said that Canadians “feel deeply and instinctively” that the treaty is “a pledge for peace and progress”.

The Alliance expanded with Turkey and Greece joining in 1952, West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. France left the military alliance in 1967 but rejoined in 2009. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, NATO membership is now 30 countries –  including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.


NATO Today


NATO is based in its purpose-built (2018) headquarters in Brussels, where Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, leads its Secretariat with Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană, a former Romanian minister of Foreign Affairs. NATO military operations are headed by two commanders: the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) based in Brussels is currently U.S. General General Tod D. Wolters and the incoming Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) based in Norfolk, Virginia will be French General Philippe Lavigne currently French Air and Space Force Chief of Staff.

Member nations are represented in both the NATO Council and Military Committee. A Canadian has never held the post of Secretary General but Canadians have twice served as Chair of the Military Committee. General Ray Henault, a former Chief of Defense Staff, was chair from 2005-2008. The incoming chair is Admiral Rob Bauer, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands Armed Forces. Legislators from NATO nations meet annually in the NATO parliamentary assembly.

In 2018 NATO has four Joint Forces Commands located in: Brunssum, Netherlands, to enhance coordination, cooperation and situational awareness; Naples, Italy, to prepare for, plan and conduct military operations in order to preserve the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states; Norfolk, Virginia to protect sea lanes between Europe and North America; and inUlm, Germany, to focus on logistics in Europe. The Norfolk and Ulm commands were added in 2018.

Canada, Norway and the U.S. collaborate with the EU through participation in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defence project Military Mobility enabling the movement of military personnel and assets throughout the EU, whether by rail, road, air or sea.


What has NATO done?

NATO is the classic defensive alliance with Article 5 of its charter declaring that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Arguably the world’s most successful military alliance, alliance unity and its deterrence capacity contributed significantly to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the demise of the communist threat in Europe.

NATO has three core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. For its first 40 years, NATO’s purpose was to deter Soviet aggression. With the end of the Cold War, NATO shifted to help the former Soviet-bloc countries embrace democracy and the market economy. Today, it deters Russian aggression.

NATO forces were involved in bringing peace to the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo) in operations that continue today. NATO forces, under the umbrella of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have been present in Afghanistan since 2003. There have been operations around Iraq (1990-1) and a training mission (2004-11). In 2005, NATO assisted in the relief efforts following the Pakistan earthquake. In recent years, NATO has also provided support to African Union peacekeeping missions in the Sudan and Somalia. NATO led the UN-sanctioned Libyan campaign (Operation Unified Protector in 2011), maintaining a no-fly zone and conducting air strikes against the Gaddafi regime. Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard directed the air campaign.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2014 presented NATO with a renewed challenge. Conflicts within and between states have created failing states and mass migration on its southern flank – in North Africa and the Middle East – that requires ongoing attention.

Since 1989, NATO has also become involved in a series of out-of-theatre missions. Over 150,000 troops served under NATO command in six different operations on three continents, including counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.


NATO still matters. But collective security means collective contributions from all alliance members. As the New York Times editorialized:

Born after World War II, NATO linked America and Europe not just in a mutual defense pledge but in advancing democratic governance, the rule of law, civil and human rights, and an increasingly open international economy. The alliance was the core of an American-led liberal world order that extended to Asia and relied on a web of international institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank. It remains the most successful military alliance in history, the anchor of an American-led and American-financed peace that fostered Western prosperity and prevented new world wars. No one has proposed anything credible to improve upon it.

But as NATO 2030 argues, the Alliance also needs to be continuously adapting to changing technology and geopolitics.


Canada and NATO

As a founding member of NATO, Canada has stood with their NATO Allies since 1949. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be pressed on Canada’s financial commitment to NATO. The government’s Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy (2017) commits Canada to increasing its defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2026-27, well short of the NATO two per cent norm. But as Trudeau has said, “there are many ways of evaluating one’s contribution to NATO” noting that Canada has “always been amongst the strongest actors in NATO.”


This includes Canada’s leadership of a multinational NATO mission in Latvia (and Trudeau will visit Latvia before going to the NATO summit). The 450-strong Canadian Forces contingent represent the commitment Trudeau made at the Warsaw summit in 2016, as part of broader Canadian support to Operation Reassurance, and note the “significant procurement projects” – especially the ongoing construction of new warships and the purchase of fighter jets – and Canada’s renewed activist internationalism.

As part of Canada’s commitment to NATO’s Operation Reassurance, Canada fighter jets patrol the Baltic skies. Since April 2014, Canada has deployed our Halifax-class frigates, most recently HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS St. John’s, in support of NATO reassurance measures. HMCS Windsor, one of our Victoria-class submarines, recently returned from five months in the Mediterranean where its mission including tracking Russian submarines. Canada is also providing humanitarian and Special Forces support to a U.S.-led multinational effort to support pro-Iraq forces battling ISIS and other terrorist groups.

In terms of readiness, Canadian forces already have achieved significant interoperability on land, air and sea with the U.S. through NORAD, our binational aerospace and maritime surveillance agreement, and through both joint exercises and active operations in theatres like Afghanistan and Libya and now in Latvia. Trudeau can also point to Canada’s recent mission as part of the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, involving 250 Canadian soldiers and eight helicopters.

Then-president Barack Obama repeatedly told Canada’s Parliament: “NATO needs more Canada”. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland understands this, telling a Washington audience (June, 2018) that:

Since the end of the Second World War, we have built a system that championed freedom and democracy and prevented regional conflicts from turning into total war. Canada for one is going to stand up in defense of that system.…America has been the leader of the free world. We Canadians have been proud to stand at your side and to have your back. As your closest friend, ally, and neighbor, we also understand that many Americans today are no longer certain that the rules-based international order of which you were the principal architect and for which you did write the biggest checks still benefits America.

At the center of that defence arrangement, as Freeland, then foreign minister, told  Parliament  (June, 2017) in laying out the Trudeau foreign policy “NATO and Article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.” We now need to up our defence contribution even beyond the additional monies included in the 2021 budget.

We should do more because Canadian sovereignty requires it and as we learned once again, during the COVID pandemic, the Canadian Forces first responder role goes beyond natural disasters – including bringing relief in retirement homes as well.

We could also do much more to assert our Arctic sovereignty – picking up the pace for construction of the icebreakers by using all of Canada’s shipyards and building more Arctic Offshore patrol ships and supply ships. We should also invest now in the next generation of submarines – they are the ultimate stealth weapon to deter unwelcome intrusions. And why not invest in a hospital ship to provide humanitarian relief in the increasing number of climate-related disasters that beset coastal nations?

Canada should also make the most of its membership in the EU/NATO Centers for Excellence especially those focusing on hybrid threats in Helsinki, Finland; cyber threats in Tallinn, Estonia; strategic communications in Riga, Latvia.



Further Reading

NATO has a comprehensive website but start with the NATO 2030 report.

Still worth reading is the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation initiative, led by General John Allen and including CGAI Fellow Julian Lindley-French. In the spirit of the Harmel Report (1967) and to “to better prepare NATO not only to meet the many technology and affordability challenges but to master them — from hybrid warfare to hyper war” they recommend a strategic review in time for the 70th anniversary summit so that NATO is “prepared, fit and able to act across the seven domains of grand conflict: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.”

On Canada’s role  read scholar Timothy Andrews Sayle’s Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order and the forthcoming Canada in NATO, 1949-2019 by scholars Joseph Jockel and Joel Sokolsky.

CGAI produced a series of papers on NATO in advance of parliamentary hearings by the House of Commons National Defence committee into NATO and its report Canada and NATO: An Alliance Forged in Strength and Durability is worth reading.


G7 Carbis Bay

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From Politico

What Justin Trudeau wants from the G-7

This week, Corridors asks: What’s the most important thing Trudeau needs to accomplish at the G-7 summit?

— Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat: In strategic terms there is Canada’s relationship with the USA, our principal ally and trading partner. Trudeau will get real face time (not virtual) with Biden at the G-7 and NATO summit. This is always useful especially now we have a roadmap aiming to take the partnership to a new level.

We balance the U.S. relationship with multilateralism where the rules-based-system (designed and sustained by U.S. presidents until Trump) levels the playing field and allows Canada to play on areas of expertise. Trudeau, for example, has gender equality and women’s empowerment — themes that will underline G-7 discussions on everything from debt relief to Covid recovery and “building back better.”

Progress, quiet but incremental — how the G-7 works — is an achievement.

Multilateralism is undergoing its most severe stress test since it was created after the Second World War — the rise of China that offers an alternative, authoritarian-based order and an aggressive, disruptive Russia that respects no norms or rules.

When Trump proclaimed and acted on ”America First,” the multilateral system drifted and broke down (the “every nation for itself” Covid response is one example). If the leading democracies can come out of the G-7 and NATO summits with cohesion and purpose, and Trudeau has played the traditional Canadian role of “helpful fixer,” then Canadian interests are well served.

Canada hopes for a bolstered G7 in a post-Trump world

By Neil Moss      
The G7 will meet in the U.K. for the first time since its haphazard summit in 2019 and since the end of the Trump presidency.

With G7 leaders heading to England for their first meeting in nearly two years, the Canadian government is hoping the group has renewed importance in showcasing the value of the rules-based order at a time of growing authoritarianism around the world.

The leaders of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy have not had a G7 meeting since the summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019. The 2020 summit, which was set to be hosted by the U.S., was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The June 11-13 in-person meeting in Cornwall, England, will be the first for U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and the last for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While recent summits have been marked by friction, there is hope that this meeting will be different, as all leaders have publicly embraced the G7, according to a senior Canadian government official.

The height of the discord during the Trump administration came during the 2018 Canadian-hosted G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Que., during which then-U.S. president Donald Trump, who left the proceedings early, erupted on social media calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) “meek and mild” and “dishonest and weak” after the Canadian prime minister’s press conference where he defended Ottawa’s position amid a trade dispute with the U.S. Mr. Trump said he told U.S. officials not to endorse the meeting’s already agreed-upon communiqué. Ms. Merkel called the eruption “sobering and a bit depressing.”

At the summit the next year in France, the G7 passed on trying to reach consensus on a communiqué.

In a post-Trump world, the 2021 G7 summit is the first meeting in which all the members are committed to multilateralism and have a desire to address the world’s challenges collectively, noted the senior government official, which was not the case with Mr. Trump’s isolationist world view.

The summit will be the first opportunity in a couple of years for liberal democracies to trumpet their model and counter the attack that the model of governance is on the decline, the official said, noting that the summit is a chance for the G7 to bounce back from a period where it hasn’t operated as effectively as it historically has. In addition to supporting human rights and democratic promotion, the official remarked that illiberal tendencies need to be publicly addressed.

While there will be natural points of complications, the official said, this summit will focus on what unites the G7, as opposed to the divisions.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the G7 is going through a “stress test” while competing with opposing worldviews.

“The rules-based system is vital to Canadian foreign policy,” he said, noting that system faced a challenge with the Trump administration. “As a consequence of [Trump’s America first policies], the rules-based system, I think, failed.”

For this summit, Mr. Robertson said, the world leaders are entering united with hopes to gain concrete goals. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will push the G7 to commit to working towards vaccinating the entire world by the end of 2022.

“It will be the democracies taking the lead,” Mr. Robertson said. “The Chinese aren’t offering this. The Russians aren’t offering this. But if this comes out of the G7, that really is important.”

“Johnson wouldn’t have said, ‘Let’s agree to vaccinate the world by 2022,’ if he hadn’t lined this stuff up,” he said.

Since the beginning of the year, G7 foreign ministers have jointly released a series of statements condemning authoritarianism and human rights abuses. The statements have targeted China over the Hong Kong situation and Russia for its aggression along the Ukraine border and its arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny.

Following the G7 foreign ministers meeting last month, a wide-ranging communiqué was issued addressing China and Russia, as well as North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Myanmar, among others.

“That, to me, is the restoration of multilateralism and acting in concert as we now have to do,” Mr. Robertson said. “Multilateralism is coming out of a severe stress test over the last four years and … democracies recognize that they have to stand together. That’s the one strength we have over the Chinese and the Russians. The Russians don’t have allies, they have tributaries. It’s the same with the Chinese.”

Independent Senator Peter Boehm (Ontario), a former G7 sherpa to both Mr. Trudeau and past prime minister Stephen Harper, said having all members of the G7 embracing the group in a post-Trump world is “significant.”

He noted that Mr. Biden comes to his first summit with a lot of experience as a former vice-president and a past chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“He’s someone who likes to get into the file, which his predecessor was not. His predecessor had a bit more casual approach,” said Sen. Boehm, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

With the other new leaders coming to their first summit, it will give Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trudeau an opportunity to play an important role, Sen. Boehm said.

“The veterans will be carrying, I think, a fair amount of the discussion, which includes [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron,” he said. “I think the dynamic will be much more collegial. There will be greater engagement—that doesn’t mean there won’t be differences on issues, but not the sort of fundamental issues that we witnessed, for example, on climate change in 2018 in our summit in Charlevoix and on some of the other global crisis points.”

University of Toronto professor John J. Kirton, co-founder and director of the G7 Research Group, said this year’s summit is “exceptionally significant” to an “unprecedented degree.”

“Never before, since the G7 summits started in 1975, have they faced such a unusually strong, severe, swift, interconnected set of crises across such a wide domain,” said Prof. Kirton, citing the pandemic, climate change, economic recovery, and geopolitical competition between liberal democracies and authoritarianism.

He noted that “shock-activated vulnerability” is what has led to “great success” for past summits.

“For that reason alone, I am predicting that Cornwall’s summit will be a strong success,” he said. “The fact that it is the first in-person summit since Biarritz … really matters. Because at a minimum, you need each leader across the proverbial kitchen table to look each other in the eye.”

“There’s chats over coffee breaks, walks in the woods, conversations when you are sitting together at the pageantry events,” Prof. Kirton said. “You just can’t do that on Zoom and especially after a year and a half of Zoom fatigue.”

He said that is why, from the very beginning, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson selected Cornwall as the summit’s location, where COVID-19 cases were among the lowest in the U.K.

While Mr. Trudeau could face political pressure from travelling internationally during a time when he is advising Canadians not to, experts say the meeting is too important for the prime minister to stay home.

The call for an in-person meeting was a collective one, according to the senior government official, noting that there isn’t an alternative to meeting in person and that the types of in-depth discussions that happen at the G7 don’t happen in any other forum and need to occur in person.

The summit will also be the first in-person meeting that Mr. Trudeau will have with Mr. Biden since he became president. The G7 has a special ability where leaders can have meetings on the margins, the official said, remarking that it will be significant for all as Mr. Biden has only met with Mr. Suga face to face.

Sen. Boehm said in-person meetings allow leaders to step aside to have a discussion in hopes of reaching a compromise.

“That is an important factor,” he said, adding that security is another. “If you are having this entire meeting virtually, there are chances that your communication will not be secure, that it could fall into the wrong hands or be manipulated by malign actors. So there is a tremendous advantage to obviously being there.”

Along with addressing climate change and trumpeting liberal democratic values, gender equality and the regulation of future technologies will also be on the agenda. It is still an open question if the rules for the use of new technologies will be made by authoritarian governments or governments that are committed to transparency, the senior government official noted.

The official also noted that G7 members will discuss specific measures regarding how to safeguard the world from a future pandemic.

The G7 meeting will be followed by a NATO summit on June 14 in Brussels and then Mr. Trudeau will participate in a Canada-European Union meeting while Mr. Biden will take part in a greatly anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

From POLICY Magazine June 7 2021

The G7 Cornwall: Back to Normal, with Key Upgrades

Colin Robertson

June 7, 2021

This coming weekend, the leaders of the advanced economies and leading democracies will meet at the Carbis Bay Hotel in a tiny Cornish seaside village in Britain’s most southerly county. While the agenda has evolved annually since its creation in 1975 (Canada joined in 1976) in the wake of the oil shock crisis, the G7 leaders have had two overriding priorities: strengthening the global economy and bolstering the rules-based order.

For this meeting, host British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also invited the leaders of, India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa to Carbis Bay. Together, the 11 leaders represent almost two-thirds of the people living in democracies around the world.

The leaders meet against a challenging backdrop. In a signed statement released June 3rd and titled Our Planet, Our Future: An Urgent Call to Action to the G7, 126 Nobel laureates called on the leaders to commit to “a new relationship with the planet” recognizing that this decade will be “decisive” in determining whether the Earth remains habitable.

As host, PM Johnson has set a high bar, declaring that “as the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face.” Johnson wants to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic by:

The leaders’ summit is the culmination of a yearlong process of meetings including seven ministerial tracks: foreign, finance, transport, development, education, health and environment. A comparison to an iceberg is apt: if the summit is the tip and most visible piece of the G7 process, this coordinated process of ministers and officials lies mostly beneath the surface of public attention but it is vitally important. There is also significant civil society outreach involving the Gender Equality Advisory Council and the G7 engagement groups: Business7, Civil7, ThinkThank7, Labour7, Science7, Women7 and Youth7.

The G7 leaders met virtually in February when PM Johnson convened them on the pandemic. They agreed to “build back better for all” – the theme of this year’s conference — through addressing climate change and the reversal of biodiversity loss, and committing to “levelling up our economies so that no geographic region or person, irrespective of gender or ethnicity, is left behind.”

Carbis Bay will be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fifth G7 summit, and from there he will go to Brussels for the NATO summit (June 14) and then the Canada-EU summit (June 15) before returning to Canada to quarantine. After Chancellor Angela Merkel, who steps down this fall, Trudeau is the longest-serving member of the current G7 leaders’ club.

Trudeau hosted the 2018 Charlevoix G7 summit, which emphasized  gender equality and the empowerment of women, combating the climate crisis, ridding the oceans of plastic, and defending the rules-based international order. These themes remain on the G7 agenda, the latter given particular prominence by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the foreign ministers’ ministerial in London, where he singled out “defending democratic values and open societies” as an agenda item amid systemic threats from China and Russia.

Trudeau will continue to press for action on Canada’s agenda, including through the Gender Equality Advisory Council, established at Charlevoix. Its work is incremental but continuous, like the G7 itself. Another example is the Oceans Plastics Charter, also discussed at Charlevoix, that continues to expand its signatories to global partners like IKEA and Walmart.

Success at Carbis Bay will be measured not just by the post-Trumpian dynamic with President Joe Biden in the American seat — who can forget Angela Merkel staring downDonald Trump at Charlevoix? — or their communique (without Trump there will be one) but by their actions and follow-up. More people may work on the draft of the final communiqué than will read it but the process of getting there is what really matters. The ongoing meetings between the leaders’ Sherpas and relevant ministers, keep the dialogue going.

Deliverables come in two parts. There are the useful initiatives like the ongoing work on gender. Then there are the top-table agreements on critical issues hammered out in their face-to-face formal and informal discussions.

A good example is the work of the finance ministers to reform, as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak put it: “A tax system that was largely designed in the 1920s.” G7 Finance ministers agreed June 5 to a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent, designed, per Chancellor Sunak, “to reform the global tax system to make it fit for the global digital age.” Agreement at Carbis Bay would give the proposal momentum for October’s G20 summit in Rome.

Deliverables come in two parts. There are the useful initiatives like the ongoing work on gender. Then there are the top-table agreements on critical issues hammered out in their face-to-face formal and informal discussions. The extent and number of these commitments is their test at Carbis Bay. Can they find consensus in a shared communiqué that they then translate into legislative and regulatory actions?

A favorable verdict on Carbis Bay will hinge on three big issues – COVID recovery; climate; and defending the rules-based international order.

On COVID, can the democracies collectively act to vaccinate the rest of the world? The International Monetary Fund wants a commitment to vaccinating at least 40 percent of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and at least 60 percent by the first half of 2022. Debt relief for poorer countries also needs firm commitments. Debt relief, increasing vaccine production, then getting the actual jabbing done would give credibility to the G7 summit theme of “Building Back”. G7 militaries, especially the US divisions that helped contain Ebola in Africa with Operation United Assistance in 2014, should play a key first-responder role – which will no doubt be discussed at the NATO summit on June 14.  

On climate, it is a question of ambition. Looking to the Glasgow climate summit in November, G7 environment ministers have already committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, with deep emissions reduction targets in this decade. Building on the 2018 Charlevoix commitments, they have also agreed to conserve at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean and to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030. The recent Peoples’ Climate Vote, the world’s biggest-ever survey of public opinion on climate change, revealed that over half see climate change as a “global emergency”. As customers, shareholders, and the courts weigh in over climate change, business now routinely factors environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) into their investment calculations. These ideas are explored by UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney in his new book Values, that draws on his 2020 Reith Lectures in which he argued that the shift from market economies to market societies helped spawn the crisis of credit, climate and COVID. For Carney,  a “strategy of relentlessly focusing on decarbonization across the economy while achieving commercial returns for investors” is doable, necessary and will generate new prosperity.

On China, President Biden has framed it as a battle between the “democracies and autocracies…We’ve got to prove democracy works.” Public opinion in G7 nations has shifted significantly in recent years, with at least seven in ten having a negative view of China. In their meeting last month, G7 foreign ministers called on China to follow global rules on trade and to respect human rights, specifically pointing out its violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. In a coordinated move, Canada, the UK, USA and EU imposed sanctions over Xinjiang, but more targeted action needs to be applied. The G7 actions on China and Russia will condition the discussion at the NATO summit.

After four years of a disruptive Donald Trump, the other leaders will also be assessing whether Biden’s presidency means that the US is really “back” and ready to lead the democracies. The Trump experience showed that without American leadership, the democracies drift. Despite efforts, especially by the Germans and French in creating the Alliance for Multilateralism, there is really no plausible alternative to US leadership, especially when it comes to security.

The pandemic has created greater confidence in governments. Can the G7 leaders come to a consensus on climate, energy, protectionism, populism and extremism? If we are moving into an economic decoupling with China, then supply chain resilience will need the G7’s ongoing attention.

At this, their 47th summit, it is easy to be cynical about the G7 and to regard it as “an artifact of a bygone era”.  With no members from Africa, Latin America or the southern hemisphere it also faces a challenge from fast-growing emerging economies, such as India and Brazil, that may outstrip some of the G7 nations by 2050.

But in turbulent times, there is real value in leaders of the world’s largest advanced economies, who share the values of freedom,  democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, getting together to discuss shared concerns. As Canada’s former long-time Sherpa, and now chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, Senator Peter Boehm, observed: “The G7 is a collective, it’s not a global government. Yes, we’re going to have differences — we wouldn’t be having these meetings if we were all agreed on everything … The leaders are really only together for about 48 hours, so are we going to solve all the problems in the world? No. Can they have a good discussion and push things forward? Yes. Can they convince some of the more recalcitrant leaders that maybe they should be a bit more open-minded? There’s a good possibility of that too.”

Winston Churchill, who popularized the word “summitry”, observed that “jaw-jaw” among leaders is better than “war-war” and with trade conflicts on the rise within the G7 partnership they need to talk. Frank discussions and informality characterize the G7 summits. Multilateralism needs constant reinvigoration and through its multiple ministerial tracks and annual summit, this is what the G7 is all about.

A Primer to the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay June 11-13, 2021


Image credit: G7 UK


by Colin Robertson
CGAI Vice President and Fellow
June 2021


Table of Contents


The leaders of the advanced economies and leading democracies will meet this coming weekend at the Carbis Bay Hotel in Carbis Bay, a tiny Cornish seaside village in Britain’s most southerly county. While the issues change, since its creation in 1975 in the wake of the oil shock crisis, the G7 leaders have had two overriding priorities: strengthening the global economy and bolstering the rules-based order. With their economies accounting for over two-fifths of global GDP, when they act collectively their decisions make a difference.

Top of this year’s agenda is dealing with the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery. Host and chair of this year’s summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is imploring his fellow leaders saying: “The world is looking to us to rise to the greatest challenge of the post-war era – defeating COVID and leading a global recovery driven by our shared values. Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history.”

Climate change, looking to the COP Glasgow conference in November, also gets top billing. Leaders will also discuss the rules -based order and how to deal with an increasingly aggressive China and Russia.

After four years of a disruptive Donald Trump, the other leaders will also be assessing whether Joe Biden’s presidency means that the U.S. is really ‘back’ and ready to lead the democracies. The Trump experience showed that the democracies drift without American leadership. Despite efforts, especially by the Germans and French in creating the Alliance for Multilateralism, there is really no plausible alternative to U.S. leadership, especially when it comes to security.

The leaders met virtually in February when Johnson, convened them on the pandemic. They agreed to “build back better for all” – the theme of this year’s conference –  through addressing climate change and the reversal of biodiversity loss, and committing to “levelling up our economies so that no geographic region or person, irrespective of gender or ethnicity, is left behind.” They also committed to champion “open economies and societies; promote global economic resilience; harness the digital economy with data free flow with trust; cooperate on a modernised, freer and fairer rules-based multilateral trading system that reflects our values and delivers balanced growth with a reformed World Trade Organization (WHO) at its centre; and, strive to reach a consensus-based solution on international taxation by mid-2021 within the framework of the OECD.”

For the meeting at Carbis Bay, Johnson has set a high bar declaring that “as the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face.” Johnson has invited the leaders of India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa to Carbis Bay. Together, the 11 leaders represent almost two-thirds of the people living in democracies around the world.


Source: Brookings

The pandemic has created greater confidence in governments. Can the G7 leaders come to a consensus on climate, energy, protectionism, populism and extremism?

Success at Carbis Bay will be measured not just by an assessment of their camaraderie – who can forget Angela Merkel staring down Donald Trump at Charlevoix – or their communique, without Trump there will be one, but by their actions and follow-up.


The G7 In-Basket

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic by:

The G7 leaders meet against a challenging backdrop. In a signed statement to the G7 titled “Our Planet, Our Future: An Urgent Call to Action”, 126 Nobel laureates called last week on the leaders to commit to “a new relationship with the planet” recognizing that this decade will be ‘decisive’ in determining whether the Earth remains habitable. Addressing future zoonotic diseases requires a ‘one health’ approach to global wellbeing recognizing the intimate connections between human health and the health of other animals and the environment.” The laureates’ “inescapable conclusion” is that “inequality and global sustainability challenges are deeply linked. Reducing inequality will positively impact collective decision-making.”

In its analysis the IMF says the strength of the recovery from the pandemic will vary significantly across countries, depending on access to medical interventions, effectiveness of policy and structural support and exposure to cross-country spillovers. Multilateral and national policy actions will be vital to ensure vaccines are globally available and then to place global growth on a stronger footing.

Amid exceptional uncertainty, the IMF projects global economic growth at 5.5 per cent in 2021 and 4.2 per cent in 2022. The pandemic’s impact on the world’s poor has been brutal, pushing an estimated 100 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. The UN warns that in some regions poverty could rise to levels not seen in 30 years. Derailing progress towards basic development goals, low-income developing countries must now balance emergency relief against longer-term investments in health, education, physical infrastructure, and other essential needs.

The geo-political problems come in four parts. First, there is the growing systemic challenge that China, Russia and the other authoritarian disruptors – North Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – pose to the rules-based system. Second, the democracies are dealing domestically with social inequities that are exacerbated by populism, extremism and disinformation.


Third, there are the problems, new and old.  The emerging political problems – cyber-intrusion and ransomware (Russia), hostage-taking (China), air piracy (Belarus) require action. The ongoing trans-national challenges like organized crime trafficking in people, drugs, guns and the ongoing effort to contain weapons of mass destruction be they chemical, biological or nuclear get ongoing attention but no one expects they will go away. It’s the same with the chronic issues. Many, like Israel and Palestine, pre-date the G7. The forced movement of people is another. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that someone is forcibly displaced every two seconds with 79.5 million people forced from their homes. Among them are 26 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. Their movement strains EU unity and polarizes Americans. The most the leaders can hope to achieve is to prevent their chronic condition from exploding into violence and chaos.


The Road to Carbis Bay

The leaders’ summit is the culmination of a year-long process of meetings including seven ministerial tracks: foreign, finance, transport, development, education, health and environment. A comparison to an iceberg is apt: if the summit is the tip and most visible piece of the G7 process, this coordinated process involving ministers and officials lies mostly beneath the surface of public attention but it is vitally important. The chart below – produced by the French for the 2019 Biarritz summit – illustrates this process that also includes the sessions involving the Gender Equality Advisory Council and the G7 engagement groups: Business7, Civil7, ThinkThank7, Labour7, Science7, Women7 and Youth7.


These ministerial sessions and civil society discussions may not get a lot of media attention, but they build the necessary consensus for actions and decisions outlined in the final communique. Sometimes it is just a matter of moving an issue forward as with the ministers’ May statement on corruption, a longstanding concern. It’s also about trying to figure out solutions to new problems. For example, transport ministers met in early May to plan for a safe return to international travel which could include some form of uniform vaccine certificate.

The collective action by Foreign Ministers through joint statements is noteworthy, especially as they have also included sanctions applied in tandem. In recent months the foreign ministers have issued statements on the arrest and detention of Alexey Navalny, condemning the coup in Myanmar, and subsequent violence, on electoral changes in Hong Kong, on Ukraine, on Tigray, Ethiopia, and Belarus. At their May meeting with Development Ministers,  the Foreign Ministers  issued an 87-paragraph communique with a series of separate statements on equitable access, girls’ education, defending democracy from foreign threats, and famine prevention that was longer than many leaders’ communiques.

In April, the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group met and their statement put the spotlight on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran and committed to uphold the global norm against the use of chemical weapons and to countering illegal intangible technology transfer, preventing the illicit transfers and destabilising accumulation of conventional weapons, and countering proliferation financing, threats in space, the threat of non-state actors acquiring nuclear and radioactive materials and the threat of disease being used as a weapon.

At their May meeting, Health ministers released the Carbis Bay Progress Report: Advancing Universal Health Coverage and Global Health Through Strengthening Health Systems, Preparedness and Resilience and at their June meeting pledged to focus on global health security, antimicrobial resistance, clinical trials and digital health and to build a pandemic-proof global health system to counter future threats.

Environment ministers met in May, committing to deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C, phase out new direct government support for international fossil fuels and to protect land and ocean to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030. The G7 countries will end all new finance for coal power by the end of 2021, while at the same time supporting clean energy alternatives like solar and wind.


Finance Ministers and heads of international financial institutions virtual meeting, May 2021. Source: UK Government

At their meetings in May and June, Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors proposed imposing a minimum 15 per cent tax on the profits of big international tech companies. The goal is to prevent big corporations –  Google, Apple and Amazon – from shifting their vast profits to tax havens. They also agreed to beneficial ownership registers to combat money-laundering and corruption.  The U.S. Congress passed the Corporate Transparency Act, aimed at the creation of a federal register of company owners in the country. Canada announced plans to establish a public register in the recent budget.

In April G7 digital and technology ministers met and agreed to a roadmap for cooperation on data free flow with trust and frameworks for G7 collaboration on digital technical standards and electronic transferable records.

At their May meeting transport ministers committed to a common set of principles to guide the resumption of international travel that would include a coordinated approach for testing and a common platform for recognizing the vaccinated status of travellers.

At their May meeting Trade ministers “recalling the G7 Leaders’ Statement at Charlevoix in 2018” reaffirmed their commitment to “open markets and a global trading system that should not be undermined by unfair trade.” In a veiled shot at China, ministers expressed concern over “harmful industrial subsidies, including those that lead to severe excess capacity, a lack of transparency regarding the state’s role in the economy and the role of state enterprises in unfair subsidisation, and forced technology transfer.” At their March meeting Trade ministers committed to free and fair trade, open digital markets and to modernizing the trade system to ensure it is environmentally sustainable, empowers women, supports trade in health products and supply chain resilience.


What About Deliverables from Carbis Bay?

More people may work on the draft of the final communiqué than will read it but the process of getting there is what really matters. The ongoing meetings between the leaders’ Sherpas – their personal representatives – and relevant ministers keep the dialogue going. They are supported by their discussions with business, civil society and think tanks.

Deliverables come in two parts. There are the useful initiatives like the ongoing work on gender. Then there are the top-table agreements on critical issues hammered out in their face-to-face formal and informal discussions. The extent and number of these commitments is their test at Carbis Bay. Can they find consensus in a shared communiqué that they then translate into legislative and regulatory actions?

A favorable verdict on Carbis Bay will hinge on three big issues – COVID recovery; climate; China and the rules-based order.


COVID Recovery

At the top of his ten priorities for 2021UN Secretary-General António Guterres put responding to COVID-19. The global landscape of the pandemic looks different among countries and even communities given the many variables at play — demographics, public funding, and international aid.

Getting Everyone Jabbed

According to the World Health Organization the pandemic has claimed nearly 3.5 million lives. Several coronavirus vaccines have been approved for use but as this map demonstrates global vaccinations have a long way to go. Some countries, including Canada and the U.S., have secured more vaccine doses than their populations need. Most lower-income countries are relying on COVAX, a global plan supported by Canada designed to ensure that everyone in the world has access to a vaccine. Earlier this month Japan hosted the virtual Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) summit aimed at accelerating access to 1.8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for lower-income economies via the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment by raising an additional US$ 2 billion from donors and the private sector, in addition to US$ 6.3 billion already raised before the campaign was launched at the “One World Protected” event in April.


The COVAX programme needs vaccines. The Serum Institute of India, the largest single supplier to the COVAX scheme, has made none of its planned shipments since exports were suspended in March to address the pandemic crisis in India. Developing nations led by India and South Africa proposed to the WTO that the patents on vaccinations and other COVID-related items should be waived and while the U.S. has now agreed the EU and UK have not. If this is not formally addressed, it will be the subject of corridor discussion at Carbis Bay.

Building Back Better

‘Building back better’ has got to be more than just a bumper sticker. Global trade between 1979-2020 grew from  36 to 60 percent of global GDP. After having fallen 5.3 per cent in 2020, the WTO estimates that the volume of world merchandise trade will increase by 8.0 per cent in 2021.

Trade has played a huge role in the vaccine development and the commitment to restoring global trade is important. As the WTO noted, one of the leading COVID-19 vaccines included 280 components sourced from 19 different countries. In calling for a trade reboot. The new WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated recently, “the biggest economic stimulus for developing countries is access to COVID vaccines.”

The recent Global State of Small Business Report from Facebook reports that of more than 35,000 small business leaders surveyed across 27 countries, almost a quarter reported their businesses were closed. Especially hard hit were women and minorities. The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) findings also demonstrates that the smaller the firm, the more negative impact of the pandemic.


Source: UNCTAD

Corporate Tax and the Digital Economy

As Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak put it: “we cannot continue to rely on a tax system that was largely designed in the 1920s.” The United States wants an end to the digital services taxes which Britain, France and Italy have levied, and which it considers unfairly target U.S. tech giants like Amazon. G7 Finance ministers agreed (June 5) to a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent, designed as Chancellor Sunak put it “to reform the global tax system to make it fit for the global digital age.” Agreement at Carbis Bay would give the proposal momentum for October’s G20 summit in Rome.

We live in a digital world but lack agreed standards on data governance. With more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data created every day, the global economy is increasingly driven by data, yet there are few globally accepted rules on the collection, processing, and sharing of data. Is it time for an international institution to oversee the digital revolution, as the International Monetary Fund does for global payments, the World Bank for development, the WHO for trade and the International Energy Association aims to do for energy? 

Debt relief

External debt repayments from low-income countries are forecast to reach between $2.6 and $3.4 trillion next year. The looming debt crisis in the global South is set to become a debt catastrophe. Calling for more ambitious debt relief for poorer countries including private creditors are both World Bank president David Malpass, and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. Georgieva noted ahead of the April 2021 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings: “The global economy is on firmer footing as millions of people benefit from vaccines. But while the recovery is underway, too many countries are falling behind and economic inequality is worsening.”



Can the G7 reach agreement on a collective approach as they prepare for the Glasgow COP summit in November? The UK and Italian governments, which are co-hosting COP26, have set four goals for the 2021 event:

  1. Agreeing to a step change in commitments to emissions reduction
  2. Strengthening adaptation to climate change impacts
  3. Getting finance flowing for climate action
  4. Enhancing international collaboration on energy transition, clean road transport and nature

COP26 is the latest Conference of the Parties (COP), the group of nations that forged the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, committing them to collectively stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system”.

The U.S. recommitment to climate opens the door to meaningful action. Biden’s executive order, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, makes it an integral element of his foreign and security policy. The European Climate Law commits the EU to be climate neutral by 2050.

The recent Peoples’ Climate Vote, the world’s biggest ever survey of public opinion on climate change surveying 50 nations and 1.2 million people revealed that over half see climate change as a “global emergency” requiring action with regional breakdown as follows: Western Europe and North America (72%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (65%), Arab States (64%), Latin America and Caribbean (63%), Asia and Pacific (63%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (61%).


In its recent report Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, the International Energy Association concluded that to get to net zero emissions by 2050 there must be an epic transformation concluding that “Climate pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – would fall well short of what is required.” The report provides 400 steps to transform energy production, transportation and use.  Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director observed that we need to see a “historic surge in clean energy investment…Moving the world onto that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

These are ideas pursued by UN special envoy on climate action and finance Mark Carney in his new book Values that draws on his 2020 Reith Lectures in which he argued that the shift from market economies to market societies helped spawn the crisis of credit, climate and COVID. For Carney  a “strategy of relentlessly focusing on decarbonization across the economy while achieving commercial returns for investors” is doable, necessary and will generate new prosperity. As customers, shareholders, and the courts weigh in over climate change, business now routinely factors environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) into their investment calculations.


China and the liberal rules-based order

Describing the challenge posed by China, Joe Biden said in his first press conference: “this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the twenty-first century and autocracies. We’ve got to prove democracy works.” From Xi Jinping’s perspective the ‘East is rising’ and the West is in decline. With the United States riven by class, race and identity with its attendant violence, culture wars and political polarization, Xi is convinced that the tide of history is flowing in China’s favour.

Joe Biden wants to limit Chinese capacity in high-tech areas like AI and robotics. To diversify and guarantee supply chains and to bring jobs back to North America will mean more decoupling from China. For their part, the Chinese have embraced ‘dual circulation’ meaning less dependence on foreign investment and exports in favour of domestic consumption and state-generated capital.

Can the G7 leaders unite to restore confidence in the open, rules-based system? The West is at risk of ceding its global economic leadership to a China that is more than ready to bring in its own authoritarian state capitalism practises to replace the market democracy designed by the West.

To meet the challenge posed by China will require joint resolve, reform of institutions and a recommitment to collective security and deterrence that also embraces space and cyber. It will oblige concerted financial and regulatory actions, catapulting technocratic processes to the forefront of national security. The new lexicon of national security now involves trade remedies and tax, export controls, accounting standards and investment screening, and sanctions.

It also means differently through, for example, a G7 backed  ‘Clean Green Initiative’ supporting sustainable development and the green transition in developing countries. It would be the West’s alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative that already has projects in over 100 countries.

There will also be discussion of other authoritarian states. Their view of Russia’s “negative pattern of irresponsible and destabilising behaviour”, as the foreign minister’s May communique termed it, will set the tone for the NATO summit the following Monday in Brussels. Leaders will want President Biden’s perspective on his June 16 Geneva meeting with President Vladimir Putin.


Canada and the G7

Carbis Bay will be Prime Minister Trudeau’s fifth G7 summit, and from Carbis Bay he will go to Brussels for the NATO summit (June 14) and then the Canada-EU summit (June 15) before returning to Canada to quarantine. After Chancellor Angela Merkel, who steps down this fall, Trudeau is the longest serving member of the G7 leaders’ club.

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau hosted Canada’s first G7 summit in 1981 at Montebello, and since then we have hosted summits in Toronto (1988, Brian Mulroney), Halifax (1995, Jean Chrétien), Kananaskis (2002, Jean Chrétien), Huntsville (2010, Stephen Harper), and Charlevoix (2018, Justin Trudeau).

Justin Trudeau hosted the 2018 Charlevoix G7 summit where he put the emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women, combating the climate crisis, ridding the oceans of plastic, and defending the rules-based international order.

These themes remain on the G7 agenda. Trudeau will continue to press for action. A good example is the Gender Equality Advisory Council, established at Charlevoix. Its work is incremental but continuous like the G7 itself. Another example, is the Oceans Plastics Charter, also discussed at Charlevoix that continues to expand its signatories to global partners like IKEA and Walmart.


Who and What is the G7?

The G7 is the forum through which the leaders of the big liberal democracies talk about their common problems and how, collectively, they can if not fix things at least keep the lid on. The G7 is not an institution, it has no bureaucracy. Hosting passes from nation to nation and the host leader sets the agenda for their year setting in train an ongoing process of top-level meetings by ministers and senior officials culminating in the summit. The summit is a gathering for the leaders to meet in relatively informal and intimate settings to inject dynamism and drive into the pressing issues of our time.

The G7 current leaders are:

  • Canada – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • France – President Emmanuel Macron
  • Germany – Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • Italy – Prime Minister Mario Draghi
  • Japan – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
  • United Kingdom – Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • United States – President Joe Biden


Also invited:

  • Australia – Prime Minister Scott Morrison
  • European Union – Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel
  • India – Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • South Korea – President Moon Jae-In
  • South Africa – President Cyril Ramaphosa


Collectively, the G7 represent 40 per cent of global GDP and 10 per cent of the world’s population. The G7 provides over 75 per cent of global development and humanitarian assistance. Through their membership in NATO, the European and North American G7 members provide the backbone of collective security and humanitarian relief. While not a NATO member, Japan is strengthening relations with the Alliance.


The G7 came into being in the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil crisis and the appreciation by then-U.S. secretary of the Treasury George Shultz and former president Richard Nixon that the leading democratic powers needed a forum at which their leaders could meet in sustained but informal discussion over a couple of days. Russia was a member from 1997-2014 but Vladimir Putin was disinvited after the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine.


Do We Need a G7?

At this, their 47th summit, it is easy to be cynical about the G7 and to regard it as “an artifact of a bygone era”.  With no members from Africa, Latin America or the southern hemisphere it also faces a challenge from fast-growing emerging economies, like India and Brazil that may will outstrip some of the G7 nations by 2050.


But in turbulent times, there is real value in leaders of the world’s largest advanced democracies, who share the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, getting together to discuss shared concerns. As Canada’s long-time Sherpa, and now senator, Peter Boehm, observed: “The G7 is a collective, it’s not a global government. Yes, we’re going to have differences – we wouldn’t be having these meetings if we were all agreed on everything … The leaders are really only together for about 48 hours, so are we going to solve all the problems in the world? No. Can they have a good discussion and push things forward? Yes. Can they convince some of the more recalcitrant leaders that maybe they should be a bit more open-minded? There’s a good possibility of that too.”

When the French hosted the Biarritz summit, they identified these G7 achievements:

If diseases are losing ground, it is (in part) thanks to the action of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria saving 27 million lives.  If maternal and infant mortality is down, it is (in part) thanks to the Muskoka programme. If we are fighting climate change, it is (in part) through the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. If women’s rights are progressing worldwide, it is (in part) thanks to the commitment to girls’ education in Africa.

The rules-based liberal international order and multilateral co-operation are under protectionist and populist pressures, both from within and without. The G7 summit is the top-table where the leaders of the major liberal democracies visibly demonstrate (or not) their ability to collectively manage the geopolitical pressure points and the growing socio-economic consequences of globalization. Winston Churchill, who popularized the word “summitry”, observed that “jaw-jaw” among leaders is better than “war-war” and with trade conflicts on the rise within the G7 partnership they need to talk. Frank discussions and informality characterize the G7 summits.

Costs for G7 summits run into the hundreds of millions of dollars but we need to look at the price as an insurance premium for democratic wellbeing. Most of it is for security (there will be more than 5500 police at Carbis Bay) but, again, the right to demonstration is integral to democracy.


Figure 1: A graphic outlining how individual countries break into the G7, G8, and G20. (Source: Foreign Policy in Focus/Bloomberg)

The UN Security Council and the G20 are the other top-table global management forum. The Security Council’s permanent members – Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States – represent the world of 1945 and the early Cold War. As we witness over Myanmar, Syria, North Korea and other recent crises, getting the Security Council to act constructively is very difficult. Reforming the Security Council is an exercise in futility.

The G20, founded in 1999 through Canadian and U.S. leadership, includes the G7 members – Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom – as well as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey.  With two-thirds of the world’s population, their economies account for approximately 80 per cent of world trade and global production.

Like the G20, much of the G7’s value is in its process – the meetings of Sherpas and ministers throughout the year and the working groups examining issues like climate, energy, health and disease, non-proliferation, development, food safety, gender, empowerment of women and minorities and support for the UN’s peacekeeping and peace-consolidating operations.

Multilateralism needs constant reinvigoration and through its multiple ministerial tracks, the annual G7 process does this. In a report (2019) for the Center for Innovative Governance Institutions, David Malone and Rohinton Medhora observed:

“What can be asserted with some confidence…is that given the complexity and interconnected nature of economic and social policies and programs today, across the globe, and the greater risks of disaster on a global scale, due to climate change, nuclear proliferation, weapon miniaturization, terrorism and global pandemic risks, and much else, international cooperation will remain vital if the worst is to be avoided.”


Further References

The UK G7 site contains much useful background. The best Canadian source for G7/8 documentation, with a chronology of past summits, is the University of Toronto’s G7 Information Centre. Listen to a Global Exchange podcast discussion with former Canadian Sherpas Peter Boehm, Jonathan Fried and Peter Harder.

Budget 2021 and Foreign Policy

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While the Trudeau Liberal government focused on a domestic recovery from the public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it left foreign policy largely ignored in its first budget in two years.

Ambitious plans for childcare and Indigenous spending were unveiled in the April 19 budget, but that same ambition wasn’t seen in the announcement of new foreign policy initiatives, said Canadian International Council president Ben Rowswell.

“We’ve seen a huge increase on spending on domestic priorities by this government without a corresponding increase in foreign policy,” said Mr. Rowswell, a former senior-level Canadian diplomat. “And I think that represents a failure of organizations in civil society that are focused on global affairs … we don’t seem to have convinced the government that the challenges facing Canada are growing considerably on the international stage. We need the focus of the government and its resources [to be on] as much as what’s happening abroad as what’s happening in Canada.”

“This budget shows the government’s willingness and determination to tackle certain long-standing systemic issues at home and put its money where its mouth is,” he said. “There are equal challenges on the international stage—they are not as directly within our control, that’s the definition of foreign policy—but they are no less urgent.”

For Canada’s foreign policy, Mr. Rowswell said, the budget represents continuity at a time of dramatic global change. “From my own perspective, that’s not adequate,” he added.

The budget’s foreign policy commitments include pledges to increase NATO contributions and funding for NORAD modernization. Canada’s international development purse got an injection—around $1.4-billion over five years, including more than $500-million in the next fiscal year—but not as much as some stakeholders hoped. The federal government also responded to geopolitical crises around the world with funding to address the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, the migrant and refugee crisis in Venezuela, and a one-year extension of the Middle East strategy.

The government also announced $236.2-million over five years to address the sexual misconduct and gender-based violence crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The budget additionally earmarked funds to ensure the “timely delivery” of defence and marine procurements, as well as ensured future procurements would include a provision to assess a bidder’s impact on “Canada’s economic interests.”

Mr. Rowswell said many of the initiatives are responses to regional crises that have emerged, suggesting a lack of foreign policy ambition.

“If Canada were to be ambitious in its international affairs, there would be some kind of changes that we would be driving as well, not just responding. It would be something more proactive,” he said.

What is lacking, he said, is a recognition of the new world that Canada is finding itself, such as in global economics, geopolitical rivalry, and defence.

Faced with these new challenges Canada, Mr. Rowswell said Canada has only made a “slight increase” in its commitments, none of which respond directly “to some pretty serious shifts in geopolitical realities facing Canada.”

“I get the sense that we are kind of treading water. That we’re operating on the assumption that the international environment will remain as it has been up until now and so we can focus on what’s happening in Canada,” he said. “While I’m certainly not arguing that we ignore these challenges on the domestic front, the contrast is jarring between huge ambition at home and no ambition abroad.”

Mr. Rowswell applauded Indigenous and gender equality initiatives that he said may give Canada a greater ability to promote human rights and gender equality on the international stage, but said there is no vision for how that can be done in the budget.

“I don’t see the feminist foreign policy reflected in the budget. There’s potential there that the government has not pursued,” he said.

University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, an expert on international relations, said she wasn’t surprised that foreign policy wasn’t a focus of the budget.

“It was personally what I would expect from a budget where we’re going to have to do something about some real economic scarring,” she said. “I didn’t really expect a lot on the international side … I think under the circumstances of where we are in the economy, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t a lot of international [focus].”

She noted there was investment in multilateralism through NATO and NORAD.

For the extension of the Middle East strategy, Prof. Momani said it will need to be further developed, as what was announced didn’t give much indication of its scope.

The strategy was last renewed in the 2019 budget with $1.39-billion over two years. The new extension reduces the strategy’s per-year funding level, with $527 million over a single fiscal year. The initiative was first forwarded to stabilize the region following the rise of ISIS, and includes diplomacy, defence, development, and intelligence.

Prof. Momani said the objectives of the strategy are a “moving target.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson says Canada is following the U.S.’s lead in addressing the pandemic at home before embarking on ambitious foreign policy plans. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

“We don’t know what the needs of the region are. We have to wait for the dust to settle for this crisis to see really where investment is required,” she said, noting the strategy could shift based on geopolitical changes in the region, which has had significant transformations in the past year, such as in Lebanon.

She said the budget also spotlights the realities of a government’s commitment to foreign policy during a minority Parliament. With an election coming sooner or later, governments don’t win votes on foreign affairs initiatives, she said.

“I think a strong majority government … would put more emphasis towards the international, and I certainly don’t think it would happen in the immediate term coming out of this pandemic, where there’s just so much stimulus need at home,” Prof. Momani said.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the domestic budget isn’t unlike spending packages that have come out of the United States and Europe.

He added much of the budget’s focus is to strengthen the domestic situation to build the desired foreign policy, which he said is the same approach as the Biden administration.

“If Canada wants to do things abroad, it first of all has to get its domestic house in order,” he said. “And that starts with of course with recovery from COVID economically, and only then will we have the kind of capacity to continue to do work abroad.”

While foreign policy doesn’t feature predominantly in the budget, Mr. Robertson said it doesn’t mean that the government isn’t looking at global affairs.

Mr. Robertson said the foreign policy initiatives that were announced are “housekeeping” and largely are things the government was already doing.

He noted that the funding for the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar reflects an approach of the government to target specific efforts where it thinks it can make a difference.

“We’ve taken a leadership role, which is kind a niche foreign policy, which I think is a helpful fixer role,” he said, noting the work of now-UN Ambassador Bob Rae and then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) on the file.



Buy America House of Commons tsstimony

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Thank you.

    My experience with buy America began in Albany in 1981, when my then boss consul general Ken Taylor and I travelled from New York City to Albany to see then governor Hugh Carey to push back on buy New York policies on steel and cement, an experience that over the years I would repeat in different states and on Capitol Hill.

    Protectionism through preferential procurement policies for goods and services is not particular to the United States. It is practised by all nations, including Canada, and at every level of government.

    If all politics is local, so is trade. Voters prefer that their tax dollars be spent locally, even though buying local generally costs more and provides less choice. But these are economists’ arguments, and they don’t matter much to the public. Neither does the bleat that Canada deserves an exemption from buy America because we are America’s friend and neighbour. While polls consistently show that Americans like Canada more than any other nation—in fact, more than we like them—the business of America is business.

    We’ve learned to deal with buy America policies on four levels.

    First is by negotiating a procurement agreement within our trade agreements, as with defence production sharing. At the Trump administration’s insistence, there is no procurement chapter in the current Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement. Yet, much of what was included in the NAFTA is included in the WTO’s plurilateral agreement on government procurement. There are more likely to be deletions from the entities listed in this agreement, given the current protectionist mood on both sides of the aisle in Congress and the “Made in America” approach of the Biden administration.

    Second is to offer reciprocity in procurement at the state and province level, because that is where the money is spent. This is how we dealt with President Obama’s Recovery Act program in the wake of the 2008-09 recession. Prime Minister Harper turned to the premiers’ Council of the Federation. Premier Jean Charest and his successor as chair, Premier Brad Wall, reached out to their governor counterparts, including through a trip by seven premiers to the National Governors Association in February 2010, to make the case for reciprocity.

    The arguments that the premiers made then still apply. By opening to outside vendors, local cartels’ ability to game the market was curtailed. Competition means better value. Most states are constitutionally prevented from running deficits. Governors need to make their dollars count, especially as they face huge costs in public services because of the pandemic. The 2010 Canada-U.S. Agreement on Government Procurement did not include every state nor cover every sector, but it did open procurement opportunities for Canada.

    Third, working with labour is vital. When our unions are part of the negotiations, as we saw during the CUSMA negotiations, we make progress. United Steelworkers leads the charge for buy America, but their membership is both Canadian and American. In the early 1990s, we gained respite from buy America on steel because then trade minister Michael Wilson went to Washington with then Canadian Steelworkers national director, later Steelworkers president, Leo Gerard. After talks with then Steelworkers president Lynn Williams, the administration agreed that buy America would not apply.

    Fourth, with those Americans we buy from and sell to, we need to make permanent our campaign that making things together is mutually profitable for jobs and prosperity. Look at our mutually profitable integrated auto trade. Before a car is assembled, its parts have criss-crossed the border at least six times. A car assembled in Canada contains 60% American-made parts, often from Canadian manufacturers with U.S. operations, like Magna, Martinrea or Linamar.

    We need to underline that our regulatory standards, especially labour and environmental, are commensurate with those of the United States. We also need to avoid the “tyranny of small differences” that keeps us out of the U.S. market.

    Given America’s growing national security concerns about reliable supply and resiliency, we need to point out that we are their closest ally and the source of their energy independence, including for the critical minerals required for next-generation manufacturing. When it becomes an American issue with Americans who want to preserve their supply chains, we increase our success rate, as we witnessed with the dismissal of the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.

    To conclude, there is no magic bullet for buy America. Hoping for an exemption because we are Canadian won’t work. We need to make our case around reciprocity and better value, while underlining the security of our mutually beneficial supply chains. Buy America is not going away, so making our case must be a permanent campaign, a team Canada effort involving the Prime Minister, premiers, cabinets and legislators working with business and labour.

We’ve had a long trade screen when we cross the border. After 9/11, we had a security screen. We’re now going to add a health screen. We need to look at border crossings.

    Regionally, there’s very good work being done by the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region out there in terms of pilots as to how to make the border work better. There’s something going on at the Wilson Center. Ultimately, it’s going to be the Prime Minister and the premiers, in their Thursday night conversations, who will make the decisions on where we go.

    It’s an opportunity for us to also think about how we reimagine this border, post COVID. Yes, we should be looking at this, and we shouldn’t be bound by the notion that one size fits all. There may be a variety of things we can try, opening it in certain parts of the…. We have a massive border. It’s not just the 49th parallel; it’s also the border between Yukon and Alaska.


Sanction China over the two Michaels

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It’s time to sanction Chinese officials for their gross human-rights abuse of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. As pieces in a global geo-strategic chessboard, their freedom depends on democracies standing strong together.

Accused of violating Chinese national security, the two Michaels have been deprived of meaningful legal representation and consular access in violation of diplomatic norms. Their imprisonment continues following their secret trials.

The Trudeau government’s response to China has been timid and temporizing. When the House of Commons voted to condemn the Chinese genocide of the Uyghurs, Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet were conspicuously absent. Their rhetoric has escalated, reflecting an increasingly angry Canadian public, but their meaningful actions on the two Michaels have been limited to the declaration on arbitrary detentions, and it lacks enforcement provisions.

While the Michaels await their trials’ verdicts in Chinese jails, we need to act. We need to change the calculus by which China assesses its own best interest regarding Canada. We can start by applying teeth to the arbitrary detention declaration by enlisting first the Five Eyes allies – Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States – and then the rest of the 61 signatories.

Canada should apply the Magnitsky sanctions against those responsible for the human-rights abuses the two Michaels have endured. We apply them against citizens of Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Myanmar and Belarus, and we have just joined the U.S., European Union and Britain in applying them against Chinese officials for human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs.

We should also refuse to let family members of senior Chinese Communist Party members study in our countries. Education, especially in English-speaking countries, is highly valued by the Chinese. President Xi Jinping’s daughter went to Harvard. You can be sure Chinese mothers and grandmothers will similarly be on to their spouses to have their children educated abroad. Publishing the beneficial ownership of assets in Canada held by Chinese Communist Party members would also be a good move. There will be squirming in Beijing.

As for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Chinese athletes are training at Calgary’s excellent facilities. Former ambassador to China Guy St. Jacques has suggested we send them packing. The House of Commons resolution wants the Games out of China. All athletes need to ask themselves: Do we really want to compete in a country that violates the spirit of the Olympic movement daily?

We got into this mess because the U.S. requested the arrest and extradition of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on allegations of bank fraud, as she was flying through Vancouver. China has since claimed that the U.S. leaned on others to detain her while in their countries, but there were no takers. We acted, apparently without a careful evaluation of consequences. It’s too late now, but John Manley got it right when he said we might have shown some “creative incompetence.” It’s a reminder why we need a first-class diplomatic service possessing experience, expertise and a sense of realism so we avoid these traps.

We have entered an era of strategic competition with a systemic rival. Xi Jinping is the most aggressive and dangerous Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. Mr. Xi draws his inspiration from Mao rather than the more pragmatic Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng and his successors practised Mr. Deng’s dictum “hide your strength, bide your time.” For Mr. Xi, “the East is rising and the West is declining.”

As demonstrated last week in Anchorage, Alaska, relations between the U.S. and China will be a mixture of competition and co-operation. The democracies need to stand together in enforcing freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, combatting cyberintrusions and in enforcing standards on transparency in the digital economy.

Continuing talks at various levels and with different players will be essential to avoid falling into a new cold war. Distinguishing between what is dangerous and what is workable will put a premium on diplomacy. The goal must be to manage confrontations and avoid conflict. We need fail-safe mechanisms to prevent military miscalculations.

The two Michaels are pawns in a bigger geopolitical confrontation between autocracy and democracy. The democracies, especially middle powers such as Canada, need to reassess their foreign policies, going beyond the transactional to ensure that our values are forefront when addressing transnational threats.

It means more attention and investment in security, intelligence and defence. We must continue to engage China in trade and people-to-people contact, but with our eyes wide open, avoiding both wishful thinking and paranoia. Mutual hostility and isolation serve no one’s interests. Just ask the two Michaels.

Two Michaels

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Michael Kovrig’s closed trial in China ends, with verdict due later

WATCH: Michael Kovrig’s trial in China ends without a verdict

The trial of Michael Kovrig, one of two Canadians detained in China over spying charges, ended on Monday with the verdict to be announced at an unspecified later date.

Kovrig’s trial, which has been ongoing for more than three hours, comes three days after the trial of Michael Spavor — the other detained Canadian.

Spavor’s trial ended without a verdict after a two-hour deliberation on Friday.

According to state media, as reported by Reuters, the verdict for Kovrig will be announced at a later date. The same is expected for Spavor.

Read more:
Canadian officials not granted permission to attend Michael Kovrig’s trial in China

China has faced a barrage of criticism over their imprisonment of the two as well as on the transparency of their judicial process. Several leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have since called the detention of the two Michaels “arbitrary.”

According to The Associated Press, the charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in China said that he was repeatedly denied after requesting access to Kovrig’s hearing due to national security reasons. Canadian officials also mentioned a similar scene on Friday when they were also barred from attending Spavor’s trial.

“Michael Kovrig has been detained for more than two years now. He’s been arbitrarily detained and now we see that the court process itself is not transparent,” Jim Nickel told reporters outside of Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate Court after Kovrig’s trial began.

“We’re very troubled by this but we thank those who have come out from the embassies here in Beijing and the international support that we’ve had for Michael, for Canada and the call that many of us are making for their immediate release.”

According to Nickel, dozens of diplomats from 26 countries including the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia and the Netherlands appeared in front of the courthouse on Monday in a show of solidarity.

Colin Robertson, a fellow and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told Global News on Sunday that both Kovrig and Spavor were pawns “in a bigger geopolitical confrontation” between the world’s two superpowers.

“The timing of the trials are an effort to place pressure on the Americans, by demonstrating they can do this to America’s closest ally — Canada,” said Robertson, who cited the meeting between Chinese and American national security officials in Anchorage over Friday and Saturday.

“So in a sense, the two Michael’s are pawns in a bigger geopolitical confrontation between the rising superpower and the current superpower.”

Kovrig and Spavor were both detained in 2018 in what is widely believed to be retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in B.C. on extradition charges to the United States.

Robertson says that he expects to see is a repeat of Friday’s trial on Monday, and that even though both cases “are different,” they would most likely be handled in the same fashion.

“But we could be surprised, which is why we have to wait and see,” he added.

A statement from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) sent after Robertson’s interview with Global News confirmed that Canadian officials would not be granted permission to attend Kovrig’s trial on Sunday. GAC also confirmed to Global News earlier this week that Canadian officials were not granted access to Spavor’s trial as well.

“According to the terms of our bilateral consular agreement, China is obligated to provide access to Canadian consular officials to the trials of Canadian citizens,” read the statement.

Read more:
Two Michaels face ‘excruciating’ wait for Chinese verdict, says former detained Canadian

GAC said that the agency is “deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”

According to University of Ottawa Senior Fellow Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, the verdict from either of the two cases could take some time should Kovrig’s trial end the same way Spavor’s did.

In either case, McCuaig-Johnston said that she expects both Kovrig and Spavor to be found “100 per cent” guilty by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“I think they might have some hope this is going to result in them leaving and going home, and I doubt that’s going to happen,” she said.

“In fact, normally it’s more than 99 per cent found guilty in the Chinese system but in cases like this that are clearly political — I think we would expect to see 100 per cent found guilty. That is what the Party determined will be the verdict,” she said.

McCuaig-Johnston’s sentiments were also shared by Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, who spoke with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday.

During the interview, LeBlanc criticized the Chinese government’s judicial process, saying that such a trial “doesn’t meet the basic standard of fairness, of respect for the rule of law.”

“It’s the kind of coercive diplomacy that China seeks to engage in and it’s fundamentally opposed by Western democracies, by Canada, by our allies including the United States,” he said.

Read more:
Trials for Canadians Kovrig, Spavor to begin in China this week

“If the conviction rate is almost 100 per cent and there’s no transparency, there’s no access to Canadian consular officials, it obviously doesn’t appear to be in any way a legitimate judicial process.”

Canada and its allies have since repeatedly called on China to release the men, while the federal government sought help directly from the U.S.

Trudeau previously said that the U.S. takes the cases of both Kovrig and Spavor seriously from conversations he’s had with U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Last month, Biden pledged to work with Canada until both men were returned.

The espionage charges both Canadians face is a crime punishable in China by life in prison, and carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.

According to McCuaig-Johnston, China would most likely hold their release of the verdict to see what they can get from the U.S. — their number one priority being that of Meng’s release.

There could be “some hope” if the U.S. insists that it wants to reset its relationship with China, she said and, “the best way to show that would be to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.”

— With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and Global News’ Hannah Jackson, Emerald Bensadoun, Rachel Gilmore and Sean Boynton.

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The two Michaels are sure to be convicted. After that, their freedom depends on Washington

Meng Wanzhou has been out on bail for 836 days, whiling away her time in a Vancouver mansion, enjoying shopping sprees and such, while proceedings for extradition to the United States grind on.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, targeted Canadians abroad, have been imprisoned in China for 832 days, in austere conditions.

Meng has had countless days in court, represented by top-drawer lawyers, every twist of the legal saga transparent. The chief financial officer of Huawei — largest privately held company in China, founded by her father — is accused of fraud and conspiracy by the U.S., alleged to have misled American banks to get around sanctions on Iran.

The two Michaels, former diplomat Kovrig and businessman Spavor, are charged with espionage against China. In an abrupt development, Spavor was brought to trial on Friday morning in the northeast city of Dandong, where he’s been held. The trial lasted under two hours. Details of the charges have never been disclosed. No verdict was rendered. Kovrig is to be put on trial Monday in Beijing and it will doubtless be more of the same — secrecy, denial of basic rights to mount a defence, and a judicial fait accompli.

Canada was left with a charge d’affaires from the embassy banging on the door of the Dandong court building, fruitlessly demanding entry, while diplomats from 10 other countries stood by in solidarity.

“We are disappointed in the lack of accuracy and the lack of transparency,” Jim Nickel, Canada’s deputy head of mission, told reporters. “The reasoning that has been given is it’s a so-called national security case and their belief is that the domestic law overrides international laws, which in fact is not the case. China does have international obligations to allow consular access.”

As fighting words go, that was scarcely a mumble.

But, of course, there will be no dragooning of the Red Dragon to comply with fundamental human rights. They don’t give a toss.

As Ottawa mewls impotently, the only words of robust disaccord, whilst throwing down the gauntlet, were uttered in Anchorage, venue on Thursday and Friday of the first face-to-face meeting between officials of the Joe Biden administration and senior Chinese diplomats.

It was an astonishingly combative tête-à-tête under-summit, with harsh words exchanged from the get-go against the backdrop of a relations re-set from the dictatorship-mooning era of Donald Trump, although his administration engaged in trade wars, blacklisted some Chinese companies and, on the way out the door, declared Beijing was committing genocide against the Uighurs. China’s top diplomat accused the U.S. of taking a “condescending” approach to the talks and insisted the American delegation had no right to accuse Beijing of human rights abuses or lecture about democracy. Yang Jiechi snippily advised Washington to repair its own “deep-seated” problems, referencing specifically the Black Lives Matter movement against American racism.

“I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize the universal values advocated by the United States, or that the opinions of the United States could represent international public opinion,” Yang said through an interpreter. “And those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”

“Grand-standing,” tit-for-tatted Washington.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke sharply in his rebuttal to journalists. “The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all. And that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.”

Of course the two Michaels, if they come up at all, would be a small sidebar to the manifest disagreements betwixt Washington and Beijing, clearly headed on a diplomatic collision course that could shake the global community to its core. Yet those are the coattails to which Ottawa must cling if any resolution — forget about justice — can be attained for the captive Canadians.

Freedom for Kovrig and Spavor runs straight through Washington.

“It sounded like there was a bit of wolf-warrior diplomacy on the part of the Chinese,” Colin Robertson, ex-Canadian consul in Hong Kong and now vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says of the Anchorage parlay. “I think the temperatures inside were as cold as they were outside.”

Robertson assesses the problem of the Michaels within the context of a broader geopolitical wrangle between Washington and Beijing. “My sense is that China is sending a message to the neighbourhood that China can do what it likes to U.S. allies with impunity,” he said in an email. “You have to see the Kovrig and Spavor trials as part of a larger Chinese effort to disrupt and discredit the U.S. alliance system, especially in what it sees as its sphere of influence.”

Kovrig and Spavor are pawns in that political game, just as they were rooks when arrested in what was patently — despite China’s disavowal — retaliation for taking Meng into custody, at U.S. behest.

Obviously, Ottawa was limited in what it could do to wrest Kovrig and Spavor from China. The men were in Chinese hands after all, so it was prudent to refrain from verbal huzzing that would make their situation more fraught with peril. At the same time, caving to China’s demands would only be rewarding what amounts to hostage diplomacy. Further, what can’t be overlooked is the fact that China is Canada’s second-biggest trading partner. Poke that bear and it’s Canada which would suffer incalculably.

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“Trade sanctions won’t work with them,” Robertson tells the Star in a phone interview. “The Chinese will apply them to us and that’s only going to hurt Canadian food producers.”


Robertson says an asymmetrical approach by the Five Eyes — an intelligence-sharing alliance of Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — would be more effective. “I would go after the children of senior members of the Communist party and say, you can’t study in English-speaking countries.”

As well, among other options, Robertson encourages Canadian athletes to undertake a grassroots movement for shifting the 2022 Winter Olympics away from Beijing.

Hit ’em where it hurts in a way that Canada can punch above its weight.

Although it appears that China is impervious to shaming, Robertson argues this is an incorrect impression.

“Shaming to an extent works. To the Chinese face is really important. If we try to move the Olympics, that’s going to embarrass them. If we go after the children of Chinese community party members, that’s very embarrassing for the senior elite. Those are the people we’re trying to reach.”

“My view about the trial on Monday is the same that it has been all along,” Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibula, told the Star Friday. “No matter what happens Monday, Michael is innocent and our focus must be on securing his release.”

Though the couple is separated, Nadjibula has remained a strong advocate for her husband throughout the ordeal. If frustrated by the Canadian government’s debility in confronting China, she’s not saying so.

“Since Day 1, our government has said that this is a priority but I also recognize that leverage is limited. It needs to be resolved in a trilateral framework between China, the U.S. and Canada. That’s why the developments of the last couple of months have been encouraging, because we’ve had a strong commitment from the U.S. to help Canada secure their release. And I hope that commitment, stated by President Biden and others, will be translated into action.”

Nadjibula has had letters from Kovrig, who only in November was permitted his first visit by Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton, onsite virtual consul access. She says of her husband: “He’s doing everything he can to stay resilient. It’s been a long time, two years. That would take a toll on anyone. But he’s doing as well as anyone would hope. He’s staying strong and resolute.”

A 10-year sentence for both Michaels upon conviction is the prediction of many China experts. But a formal rendering could also untie the knot of a diplomatic stalemate. China could then assume a posture of diplomatic beneficence.

“In China’s eyes they would have been validated in their accusations,” says Robertson. “After that, they can exercise clemency in the knowledge that, from their perspective, due process was served and these people are guilty. In a sense, it makes it a bit easier.”


The mantle of mercy.

Canada US Roadmap

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Colin Robertson  March 14, 2021

Are we ready to take our most important relationship to the next level of partnership?

The “Roadmap for a Renewed Canada-US Partnership”, announced during the virtual meeting in February of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden, is the latest iteration in managing neighbourly relations. Beginning with the last century’s trade and security agreements negotiated by Mackenzie King and Franklin Roosevelt, this century has included the Smart Border AccordSecurity and Prosperity PartnershipBeyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation.

The seven goals enumerated in the Roadmap spell out current shared objectives:

  • Combating COVID-19 at home and abroad.
  • Building Back Better in sustainable fashion that also addresses new threats like cyber and rebuilds the infrastructure necessary for continental competitiveness.
  • Accelerating Climate Ambitions starting with a common approach between Canada and the US on things like carbon pricing, complementary standards on emissions, sharing R&D and innovation.
  • Advancing Diversity and Inclusion with the focus on disadvantaged groups – women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples – in recognition that the rising tide of globalization did not lift all boats.
  • Bolstering Security and Defence including modernization of NORAD, especially its North Warning System.
  • Building Global Alliances to address the threat posed by authoritarians, recognizing that Canada must do more to share the cost burden with a commitment to reach the NATO defence spending target of 2 percent of GDP by 2024.This also means reforming our multilateral institutions, notably the WTO where Canada is leading reform efforts, and WHO.

For the Biden administration the Roadmap is not only a framework for managing the Canada relationship but a demonstration to its democratic friends that the US is serious about re-invigorating its alliances and reasserting US leadership of the rules-based order that successive presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama had led and sustained. Biden’s pledge that “America is back” begins with Canada.

For Canada, the Roadmap is a remarkable opportunity to re-set the US relationship and take it to a new level in terms of economic, environmental and security cooperation. It will require investment of money, resources and time and to succeed it needs to be a team Canada effort with the active support of the premiers, the Official Opposition, federal and provincial legislators as well as business, labour and civil society.

Progress on the roadmap requires focus, constant engagement and a recognition that we need to get as much done as possible before the US midterms in 2022 and that the clock runs out by the next presidential election in 2024.

This means building cross-party consensus, at least betwee the Liberals and Conservatives to ensure there the approach does not change if there a change in government. This is how we sustained NAFTA in the transition to the Chrétien goverment from the Mulroney-Campbell governments and on CETA and the TPP from the Harper to Trudeau governments. The First Ministers must be involved; issues like infrastructure and resources, involve their authorities.

Getting it done is always the hard part. Derek Burney, who served as Brian Mulroney’s chief of staff and then as our ambassador in Washington from 1989-93, would remind us often as we strategized about high policy that vision was important but what was vital was “Getting It Done” (and he so titled his erudite memoir.)

We need to recognize the asymmetries of our relationship, especially in economics and security. Bluntly, the US matters more to us than we matter to them. For Canada this means focus and continuous engagement. We level the playing field through a network of rules and agreements – at last count well over 20,000 – and institutions, preferably binational like NORAD, and the International Joint Commission, founded in 1909 with a view to managing the water along the world’s longest border.

Most of our diplomacy is conducted either bilaterally or multilaterally; we sit on opposite sides of the table. But binational means, at least in theory, that we operate together – side by side – for mutually beneficial results. It’s the antithesis of Donald Trump’s winner-take-all.

We need to recognize the asymmetries of our relationship, especially in economics and security. Bluntly, the US matters more to us than we matter to them.

We are deeply, deeply integrated economically – a process that began before the Second World Wat and has continued, despite bumps, ever since with the Autopact in 1965,  the Canada-US FTA in 1989, the NAFTA in 1993 and now NAFTA 2.0 including Mexico in 2020. Sixty-four cents of every dollar we generate comes from trade with the US, our main trading partner buying 75 percent of our exports (the European Union takes about 8 percent and China 4 percent). The US makes over half of our imports. Almost half of our foreign investment comes from the US. The US also provides our security blanket. We became allies before WWII, negotiating wartime defence production agreements and then the Atlantic alliance, NATO, in 1949 and the North American Air Defence Command, NORAD, in 1957.

We share the top half of our continent. The third, often forgotten but increasingly important piece in our institutional architecture, is our joint stewardship of the environment. The IJC has successfully managed our waterways for over a century.

Together, these institutions represent a continuous process of constant engagement.

So how do we get it done?

Allan Gotlieb, our longest serving US ambassador from 1981-89 set out a Decalogue of observations on “working Washington” in his 1991 book I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Ambassador: The Education of a Canadian Diplomat in WashingtonStill relevant, these three are especially current:

  1. The particular process by which a decision is reached in Washington is often so complex and mysterious that it defies comprehension.
  2. Since there are so many participants in decision-making, so many special-interest and pressure groups and so many shifting alliances, a diplomat cannot design any grand or overarching strategy to further his nation’s interests. Every issue requires its own micro-strategy and every micro-strategy is unique.
  3. No permanent solutions are within reach of the ambassador or his government, only temporary ones. Instability is the norm, alliances and coalitions are always being forged, forces and counterforces are always mounting.

While posted in Washington I kept a copy of Gotlieb’s book on my desk,  alongside the US Constitution, From my own experience of working on Canada-US relations beginning  with an assignment to New York in 1978, to Los Angeles as Consul General as first head of our Embassy’s Advocacy Secretariat, serving as part of the teams that negotiated the Canada-US FTA and then NAFTA, then working for a decade with both a US-based law firm and what is now the Business Council of Canada,  I’ve come up with these “Ten Rules of the Road” for getting it done when dealing with Uncle Sam:

  1. Get our collective act together because the Americans will always exploit our differences. Know what is our “ask” and what is our “give”. Know our facts, offer solutions not whinging. Public diplomacy is as important as closed-door diplomacy. Be brief, be blunt, be bold.
  2. Americans like big ideas that solve their problems. Go for gold: ask for what we really want rather than what we think they will give us. If we don’t take the initiative, then we take what is on offer.
  3. No surprises, especially in issues of national security. Security trumps all else. Americans expect a reliable ally.
  4. We have three overriding messages: We have your back. We are a trusted trading partner, “making things together” with our goods, services and resources fueling. And “Build Back Better”: As co-tenants of our continent we are joint stewards of our land, water and air.
  5. Make it a US issue and identify American friends, keeping in mind an adversary on one issue can be an ally on another, so never burn bridges. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
  6. Play by American rules, using lobbyists and lawyers. There are always more Americans who think like Canadians than there are Canadians.
  7. The American system is different from ours: read its Constitution to understand its checks and balances and separation of powers. The Administration is our entry point but the battleground is Congress, the states and cities. Beware of congressional noise: most proposed legislation fails.  Save the Oval Office for what is really important.
  8. Protectionism is as American as apple pie and as old as the Republic. For legislators, who must fundraise daily, all trade, like all politics, is local, so Canadians need to know the jobs generated by our trade and investment. Don’t ask for an exemption, ask for reciprocal treatment – that’s the art of the deal. And like politics, if you are not on the offence, you’re playing defence. There’s one trade bullet we can’t repeat often enough—Canada is the largest international customer of 37 US states.
  9. Americans like us more than we like them. But business is business and the business of America is business so don’t ever expect gratitude for what we think we did for them.
  10. It’s a permanent campaign requiring engagement at every level early and often. We need a thousand points of contact: PM to President, premiers & governors, cabinets, legislators, mayors, B2B, L2L, civil society.

Get this right and we not only advance Canadian objectives, we enhance our international standing. Brian Mulroney, the prime minister who best understands the US, has put it this way: “There is a rule of global politics–Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington.”

Know our facts, offer solutions not whinging. Public diplomacy is as important as closed-door diplomacy. Be brief, be blunt, be bold.

Have a thought for Biden. He faces the most formidable set of challenges of any president since FDR took power in 1933, when America was reeling under the Great Depression. For us to achieve progress on our new Roadmap we need to keep always in the situational awareness of the many challenges confronting the Biden-Harris administration. We should be helpful, wherever possible, because a healthy and prosperous Canada depends on a healthy, prosperous and strong America.

In his inaugural address President Biden outlined the crises – health, economic, social, and climate – as well as his determination to re-embrace multilateralism and restore American leadership.

The pandemic is job one. It has claimed over a half million American lives. More Americans have died from COVID than were killed in combat during in the First and Second World Wars as well as Vietnam. Biden is on track with his pledge of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his administration. Indeed, he now promises all Americans will have access to vaccines by summer.

The economic malaise caused by the pandemic is compounded by the larger forces of ongoing technological change and globalization. Jobless claims remain well above the worst levels of the Great Recession. At 100 percent debt-to-GDP US debt is higher than any other time in US history outside of the Second World War. Canada, by comparison, is about 50 percent  debt-to-GDP.

Americans, perhaps more than other nation, believed they were an exceptional people – living in what Ronald Reagan famously called “the city on the hill” – a new world where if you work hard, you too can succeed.  But now polls tell us most Americans think their children will be worse off than themselves. The top 10 percent of Americans now own over 70 percent of the country’s wealth; the top 1 percent controls more national income than the bottom 50 percent. Average income growth of the top 1 percent rose by 226 percent from 1979 to 2016; while working- and middle-class income distribution was comparatively flat.

Economic turmoil contributes to a social crisis complicated and compounded by race, gender, class and culture.  The trial of the Minneapolis cop who killed George Floyd casts a beacon on the grievances underlying Black Lives Matter:  if you are black you are twice as likely to die of COVID and three times more likely to be hospitalized. Black unemployment rates are double that of whites.  The net worth for median black households in the United States stands at $20,000 compared to $180,000 for whites.

There is renewed migrant pressure on the southern border from those fleeing crime, corruption and bad government. This movement helped propel Trump to the White House on the promise of building a wall to keep them out.

Then there is climate change, with the attendant complications of biodiversity and pollution – rising temperatures and freak weather, wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, freezes, and floods of biblical proportion. According to NASA, 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.

Biden must manage all these crises against a profound political divide that has galvanized partisans on both sides. Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies but they also disagree on “basic facts.”  The 68.7 percent  with over 155 million casting ballots meant that 2020 saw the highest voter turnout since 1900. A switch of only 124,000 votes in just four states would have meant a second Trump administration.

Despite the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress, the Republican Party remains Donald Trump’s partyMost Republicans still believe that the election was stolen. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declared Trump was “morally responsible” for the January 6 attack on the Capitol,  but he and all but seven of his Senate caucus still voted against his conviction following his impeachment by the House.

The political challenge for Biden is not only inter-party but intra-party,  pitting the progressive wing led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others, – against the moderates – Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. As Will Rogers once remarked: “I am not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat”.

In his inaugural address, Biden has set himself three overriding priorities: to revive and sustain the middle class; to fix the environment and to restore American leadership of the free world.  He and his team believe that wellbeing – economic, environment, health, social – is the best antidote to populism and the way to defend democracy.

It starts at home. As Biden put it at the Munich Security Conference: “We’re at an inflection point between those who argue, given all the challenges we face— from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic—that autocracy is the best way forward… and those who understand that democracy is essential—essential to meeting those challenges.” To meet these challenges Biden said the US must “put ourselves in a position of strength  to be able to deal with the challenges we face around the world,” And that starts at home.

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks America’s democracy behind Japan, Korea and Germany – those it helped to create. According to Pew only a fifth of Americans trust the government all or some of the time.

In his 1862 address to Congress, while waging the Civil War, President Lincoln said, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

We want the US to succeed.  We want Joe Biden to succeed.

We want a united and democratic America just like we want a united, democratic Canada.

We all want to see a return to optimism and pragmatism – the can-do spirit that has been the enduring American characteristic and one that we all admire.

We can do a great deal together and with the rules of the road in mind, get it done.

The US, political scientist Ian Bremmer recently observed, is a country of contradictions. It set the global standard on game-changing vaccines while leading the world in COVID deaths and hospitalizations.

Its markets were at record highs while the Capitol Building was stormed by violent insurrectionists on January 6. It landed the new Mars mission while Texas endured third world-like power outages.

For all its innovation and entrepreneurship, the politics of the United States are profoundly dysfunctional and getting worse. At his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Garland Merrick vowed to prioritize domestic terrorism.

Authoritarianism – whether monarchies, dictators or oligarchies – not freedom and democracy, has been the prevailing system  of government for most of recorded history. Once more we have an authoritarian model – Xi Jinping’s China – one where their economy has done better than any democracy each year for 30 years.

We all want to see a return to optimism and pragmatism – the can-do spirit that has been the enduring American characteristic and one that we all admire.

As democracies turn inward, authoritarianism surges,  contributing to the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, according to Freedom House’s annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties.

Xi Jinping can claim his model preserves order while giving prosperity. And now he is exporting it abroad through Belt and Road Initiative and through reinterpreting and revising the rules in international organizations.

We have enjoyed what the great Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan describes as the “long peace” and the triumph of democracy, or what scholar Frank Fukuyama once called the “end of history”. But as Nobel laureate, Bob Dylan sang, The Times They Are-A-Changin’.

Study history and you realize that neither that long peace nor democracy is guaranteed. Study history and you know that the good guys don’t always come first.  While posted in New York in the late 1970s, I got to know the legendary BBC journalist Alastair Cooke. For half a century he read listeners a weekly Letter from America. He told me: “America is a country in which I see the most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism and the race is on between its vitality and its decadence.”

Say a prayer for Joe Biden.

Colin Robertson is Vice President and Senior Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa. He has served at the Canadian Embassy in Washington and as Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles. Adapted from the 14th annual Canada-US Law Institute Distinguished Lecture at Western University, London Ontario.

Trudeau BIden meeting

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Trudeau, Biden’s first bilateral meeting to lay out future of Canada-U.S. relations


Feb 23, 2021 at 11:17 am MST

FILE – In this Dec. 9, 2016 file photo, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Biden will still host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday for the first bilateral meeting but will do it virtually. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP)

The prime minister and U.S. president will hold the first official bilateral meeting Tuesday afternoon

The two leaders are expected to lay out a road map for the future of Canada-U.S. relations

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden meet virtually Tuesday afternoon, the two leaders will be looking to unveil a plan for Canada and the U.S.

The meeting will be the first official bilateral meeting since Biden took office, and a fact sheet released earlier in the day by the White House says this meeting is to set out a “road map” for Canada-U.S. relations.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who was posted in the U.S., said the map will set out goals in areas of mutual interest, including the COVID-19 response, climate change, economic recovery, and defence.

However, it’s not clear if this plan will include some of Canada’s priorities, such as procuring more COVID-19 vaccine doses made in the U.S., freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from China, or securing an exemption to Biden’s Buy American policy.

NDP Leader Jagemeet Singh said he wants to see Canada get an exemption from the policy.

“Given the fact that our economies are so integrated, products aren’t just made in Canada or America. Often the very same product goes over the border a couple of times,” he said.

Robertson expects Biden to Trudeau support when it comes to China, but he doesn’t think the president will make any promises when it comes to the Buy American approach. The former diplomat believes Biden will likely put off granting an exemption for the time being.

“I think that they’ll probably punt it to study. I think we’re going to have to make the case,” Robertson added.

The two leaders will also likely discuss Keystone XL, the ill-fated cross-border pipeline expansion that has become a lightning rod for political criticism from both sides of the aisle.

The meeting will start with only Trudeau and Biden one-on-one before the meeting expands to include the cabinets of both governments.

US Ambassador to Canada

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One month after restoring regular order in their initial half-hour telephone call, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden will set the scope of that partnership on Tuesday. The two have shared priorities between them: managing COVID-19 and an economic recovery with a focus on growing the middle class, securing the resiliency of supply chains, bolstering defence and security, tackling the issues of climate and energy, and promoting diversity and inclusion.

But what’s missing from that list is the urgent need to name a new U.S. ambassador to Canada.

It has been 18 months since Kelly Knight Craft, Donald Trump’s ambassador to Canada, left for the United Nations; even when she was on the job, as a U.S. Senate inquiry revealed, she spent half of her 22-month Canadian assignment in the United States. Her nominated successor, Dr. Aldona Wos, had a Senate hearing, but she was never confirmed.

The U.S. ambassador matters because he or she holds the sole presidential appointment where the job is to think about Canada 24 hours a day. With their Canadian counterpart in Washington, they are the quarterbacks in the field: identifying and heading off potential problems, trouble-shooting many of them, usually without media attention, while providing advice and expertise to their respective governments.

The ambassador’s responsibilities cut across the various levels of government. Scarcely a week goes by without a conversation with a governor, a premier or a local official. It’s a reflection of the profound interconnectedness of our relationship. It is as much domestic in its scope as international.

While both countries rely on their professional foreign service to staff their embassies and consulates, the politics that inevitably goes with issues such as Mr. Biden’s recent scuttling of the Keystone XL pipeline means that Canada is better served when the U.S. ambassador has highly developed political instincts and the contacts that they can personally call on to fix things.

Recent U.S. ambassadors possessed these qualities and, just as importantly, developed an empathy for Canada. Michigan Democrat Jim Blanchard (Bill Clinton) and Massachusetts Republican Paul Cellucci (George W. Bush) served as governors; Mr. Blanchard had also previously served in Congress. David Wilkins (Mr. Bush) had previously been Speaker of the South Carolina legislature, while Gordon Giffin (Mr. Clinton), David Jacobson (Barack Obama) and Bruce Heyman (Mr. Obama) were lawyers for whom the politicking of fundraising, organizing and campaigning was their second profession. The politically connected Ms. Craft and her coal-magnate husband has donated millions to Republican campaign coffers.

The common denominator for these ambassadors was their personal relationship with their president. Their ability to pick up the phone and get through to the president or his chief of staff is what Canada wants in a U.S. ambassador.

When the U.S. ambassador weighs in, things get done: the Open Skies agreement, Smart Border, pre-clearance at airports and rail stations. As important is what they head off or quietly resolve – everything from ballast-water brouhahas to brawls over bridges. Even if Ms. Craft kept a low profile, she worked effectively with former Canadian ambassador David MacNaughton in keeping NAFTA renegotiations on track. Inevitably, they all became experts on the border.

They also quickly learn that the alternate power in Canada is not just the parliamentary opposition but the premiers, whose constitutional responsibilities give them weight and influence especially on resources, immigration and trade.

Working with the premiers will be a priority for the next ambassador. In the 25th call between the Prime Minister and the premiers on COVID-19, Alberta’s Jason Kenney said rescinding the Keystone XL permit was a “gut punch” and an “insult.” In calling for retaliatory action, he got the backing of Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Ontario’s Doug Ford (who also raised the issue of Mr. Biden’s “Buy America” executive order) and Quebec’s François Legault.

Mr. Trudeau should encourage the President to name his new ambassador as quickly as possible. Given rigorous scrutiny – financial, political and character – and then the Senate process of a hearing and votes, it will likely be months before anyone moves into the splendid U.S. residence called Lornado.

The ambassador’s to-do list is falling in place. Our leaders prioritized combatting COVID-19, strengthening economic and defence ties, and addressing climate change. We need a shared approach to industrial policy.

Each item comes with a subset of issues: vaccine and PPE distribution; more resilient supply chains; the new North Warning System for air defence and the Arctic; a carbon border-adjustment tax. There are the perennial concerns: “Buy America,” softwood lumber, our pipelines. Then there are the global issues on the table at this year’s G7, G20 and climate summits: China, climate, reform of the rules-based order and reinvigoration of the democracies.

The next U.S. ambassador will not solve our problems. But he or she will be a key player and vital interlocutor in managing our most important and complex relationship.