27 Apr 2018

Canada puts the focus on progressive trade

Canada is following a new approach to trade policy that contributes to the government’s broader economic, social and environmental policy priorities.

Stephen de Boer, Ottawa’s ambassador and permanent representative to the WTO in Geneva, presented the Canadian ‘Progressive Trade Agenda’ in a distinguished lecture at the WTI on 25 April.

The Progressive Trade Agenda seeks to ensure that the benefits and opportunities of trade are fairly and widely distributed, said Ambassador de Boer.

He said his government had been closely following debates on trade and globalisation at home and abroad, including over the Canadian-EU trade agreement CETA. These had raised a range of public concerns including over a perceived lack of transparency in negotiations and threats to environmental and social standards.

Making the benefits of trade clear

In Canada there has always been broad support for trade liberalisation, de Boer said. But the number of people unsure of the benefits is growing.

Sustaining support for trade in a trade-dependent country like Canada is critical,” said the WTO ambassador, who said the country could not afford to think in an isolationist way. “So one of the government’s strategies is to make those benefits clear."

The Progressive Trade Agenda was Canada’s response to the growing scepticism. “It seeks to ensure all Canadians can take advantage of and benefit from the opportunities created by trade and investment,” he said. “It aims to support economic growth for all Canadians and maintain confidence in an open, rules-based trading system”.

The Progressive Trade Agenda takes an informed and inclusive approach to trade policy-making involving thorough consultations and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, including with underrepresented groups.

A second important aspect of the new trade agenda is the progressive content of trade agreements, de Boer said. It prioritises further improvements to labour and environmental elements of agreements and adds new progressive chapters, such as on trade and gender, SMEs, and trade and indigenous peoples.

Women and trade

Canada acknowledges the importance of incorporating a gender perspective into economic and trade issues, according to the ambassador. He said this started by focusing on women’s needs and enabling them to become full participants in the economy. It was a case of understanding those needs and “lighting a fire”.

As evidence of Canada’s commitment he pointed to the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires last year at which Canada championed a declaration on women and trade.

The modernised Canada-Chile free trade agreement (FTA) included Canada’s first trade and gender chapter, de Boer said.

The third aspect of the new approach to trade was an enhanced bilateral and multilateral engagement to advance progressive and inclusive trade, he said. This included participation in international forums such as the OECD, WTO, G20 and APEC.

Moving forward

Moving ahead the Progressive Trade Agenda will be the new “standard” for Canada to conduct and negotiate FTAs, de Boer said. The government would continue to advance its agenda in ongoing and future negotiations, for instance as it expands trade with large fast-growing markets like China.

Canadian ambassador to Switzerland Susan Bincoletto added that trade was as important to Canada as it is to Switzerland, with one in five jobs and 70 percent of growth in Canada being related to trade.

The question is who is benefiting and who is not. Canadians will remain free traders because our growth depends on that, but we want to share the benefits more equitably,” Ambassador Bincoletto said.