Plan for More Benefits from Free Trade Plus

By Wilson, Michael | Canadian Speeches, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview
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Plan for More Benefits from Free Trade Plus

Wilson, Michael, Canadian Speeches

Ottawa and the provinces are said to need a co-ordinated plan to enlarge the successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement and gain more mutual trade, economic and security benefits from our relations with the United States. There is much to be gained. A customs union involving specific sectors such as automotive, energy, steel and computers could yield meaningful economic benefits. Speech to the 72 annual Couchiching Couchiching Conference, Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs conference, Geneva Park, Ontario, August 7, 2003.


Recently your president, David McGown, expressed some concern regarding the support of the Progressive Conservative party for NAFTA, open markets, WTO, free trade policies and so on.

Out of that discussion came the idea for this panel on the receptiveness among Canadians for expanding and broadening NAFTA in the context of possible future directions for trade policy.

First, let me be quite clear. The Progressive Conservative party is fully committed to open markets and NAFTA. Our new leader, Peter Mackay, has publicly stated this in strong terms. I can also say that, in discussions I have had with him on the review which he has promised, he is quite committed to exploring opportunities to broaden Canadian trade opportunities. That likely will be the thrust of the review of NAFTA that will follow from his discussions at the time of the leadership convention.

Trade has been good for Canada. The current minister for international trade recently described NAFTA as an "unqualified success," making a "strong contribution" to job creation, innovation and opportunity among Canadians.

Some numbers--our total merchandise trade with the U.S. and Mexico amounted to $584 billion in 2001. Canadian direct investment in the U.S. was $198 billion in 2001. U.S. direct investment in Canada was almost the same--$215 billion. Mexico is now Canada's sixth largest trading partner with $15.1 billion in two-way trade, and $2.5 billion Canadian direct investment in Mexico.

All three countries have benefited and, again in the trade minister's words, "NAFTA has made North America one of the most efficient, predictable and transparent regions in the world in which to conduct business."

I quote Mr. Pettigrew on this to demonstrate how far the current governing party's policy has come since 1987 when they were adamantly opposed to the FTA to their current position of unqualified support for NAFTA.

In other words, there is no turning back on free trade, NAFTA or open markets. The question today is how to improve upon this and where are the best opportunities.

Let me step back for a minute from the trade question itself and focus on two related issues--September 11 and the nature of the U.S.-Canada bilateral economic relationship.

The profound impact that September 11 has had on the U.S. in particular, has caused the external focus of that country to shift. Trade relations with Canada must be seen in the context of their much broader security concern. Trade and investment flows were causing the border to disappear. Now, after September 11th, the border has become a potential barrier to these flows. Security, immigration, transportation patterns, investment flows must all be considered in any future trade policy discussions.

The broader national security attitudes of the U.S. Administration will also colour trade policy decision-making. If Canada is viewed as a less reliable or less supportive partner in a security sense, it will affect our ability to influence positive changes in market access. We must be proactive in seeking change that will complement or support security considerations in order to achieve our trade policy objectives. The converse is of greater concern. If we are not seen as a supportive and reliable neighbour, we could find ourselves on the defensive, a most unattractive prospect.

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Plan for More Benefits from Free Trade Plus


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