Foreign Policy at the Fringe: Canada and Latin America

Article excerpt

BEYOND THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP with the United States, the Americas are essentially marginal to Canada's interests, however one defines the latter, and they are likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. In such a context, the challenge for the government is to design a policy that is consistent over time, that can have significant impact in the few areas that are more relevant to the country's interests, that is likely to command sufficient resources for that purpose and that can be sustained over time. No easy task.

This article first examines the structural basis of Canada's relationship with the rest of the Americas--or more precisely, the lack thereof--and challenges three of the key assumptions of the policy adopted since 1989. A second section examines a limited number of files whose relevance for Canada is higher--Mexico and Brazil--and another where a focused policy could have significant positive impacts.

THE AMERICAS OF OUR DREAMS

Since 1989, Canadian policy toward the Americas has been remarkably proactive. The story of Canada's "rediscovery" of the Americas(1) has been portrayed as a decisive march toward the country's full integration in hemispheric affairs. The landmarks of Canada's deepening option for the hemisphere are numerous and impressive: the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1988; full membership in the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990; the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994; the Miami Summit, also in 1994, where Canada forcefully endorsed the project of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); free trade with Chile in 1997; the Quebec Summit in 2001; and then a bilateral trade agreement with Costa Rica (2002) and trade negotiations with the rest of Central America. Between these landmarks, the government and its diplomats have shown remarkable commitment to, and certainly made their mark on, hemispheric affairs, playing a key role in setting up the negotiation and support infrastructure for the FTAA, in addition to chairing the first stage of the negotiation. Similarly, Canada's commitment to a suddenly proactive OAS translated into a number of initiatives, from the establishment of a unit for the promotion of democracy, in the general secretariat of the OAS, to the inclusion of a democracy clause in the Quebec Summit declaration and the adoption in Lima, in 2001, of an "Inter-American Democratic Charter."

On the ground, an activist diplomacy was translating these general principles into continuing support for democratic consolidation and peace processes in Guatemala, Colombia and perhaps, more spectacularly, in Peru.(2) Finally, the significant capabilities of Canada's diplomatic apparatus, however stretched, have been put to intensive use in the hosting of an extraordinary number of major hemispheric events: from the Americas Business Forum in Toronto (1998), the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg (1999), the "Ninth Conference of the Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas" (1999), to the OAS General Assembly in Windsor (2000) and the Quebec Summit of the Americas (2001).

Three broad assumptions have driven those activities: 1) the hemisphere is now the only possible regional "home" for Canada in the vast world, what happens there is important from the standpoint of Canada's economic, political and security interests, and Canada has the capacity to become a significant player in the region; 2) the hemisphere is integrating--economically, politically and as a security complex--as a "rules-based" regional trade regime is emerging and as its multilateral institutional machinery gains relevance; and 3) the region is getting better, both economically and politically, its countries are progressively joining the global community of democracies and, albeit slowly, struggling out of economic under-development.(3)

While these assumptions might have been relatively compelling in 1989 and especially in 1994 after the Miami Summit--but before Mexico's Peso Crisis--they now simply look wrong--completely wrong--which suggests that the policy they underlie might require substantial change. …