Canada and the World Trade Organization

By Bulte, Sarmite D. | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview

Canada and the World Trade Organization


Bulte, Sarmite D., Canadian Parliamentary Review


In 1998 and 1999 the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade conducted a series of public hearings in Ottawa and across Canada to discuss Canada's trade objectives and the forthcoming agenda on the World Trade Organization. It also looked at Canada's priority interests in the Free Trade Area in the Americas. The hearings came at a time when countries are facing some crucial choices and decisions in the complex negotiating process that is being conducted multilaterally both under the auspices of the WTO and in developing regional forums such as the proposed Free Trade Area in the Americas. This article looks at how parliamentarians can contribute to the definition of international trade policy and an economic environment that is conducive to international Canadian business interests.

International trade has now become a local issue. What happens at far away negotiating tables has consequences that reach right down to the kitchen table. As the trend deepens, the making of trade policies cannot be left to only a few officials in backrooms. It needs to engage the whole of society and government at all levels.

It was the role of our Committee to encourage citizens in all parts of Canada to participate, to give us their best ideas and to follow the progress of the study in the coming weeks and months.

The final report represented extensive hearings across Canada, containing the views of many Canadians and interested groups on the broad range of issues that will need to be addressed in further trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. It is incumbent upon the Government to respond to these views, along with the recommendations contained in the report, and ensure that they are reviewed and considered fully in the process of establishing Canada's negotiating objectives and priorities.

Canada at the WTO: Towards a Millennium Agenda

In undertaking some of the most comprehensive cross country hearings ever, (425 committee appearances comprised of 88 industry associations, 26 governments, 61 academics, researchers and professions, 85 civil society reps and 64 individuals), the Standing Committee was mindful of having the broadest possible and open public input on the main political choices that will govern the "WTO millennium round "to be launched at the Seattle Ministerial Conference in November, 1999.

The committee report is comprehensive in addressing Canada's general goals at the WTO as well as specific sectoral interests, particularly the difficult agricultural dimension where both Canadian export and supply interests are in play, and the tricky "social" dimension (mainly labour and environmental standards) of the WTO. Notwithstanding some minority dissenting party submissions, the Standing Committee report developed a broad degree of consensus and coherence in its 39 recommendations related to our negotiating interests in the WTO round, the implementation of WTO agreements, improving the dispute settlement mechanism and ensuring that the WTO can make a contribution to global governance and stability without detracting from its primary sphere of trade responsibility. It is therefore representative of what federal parliamentarians working together can achieve in influencing the Canadian position leading into the WTO negotiations.

The report recommends an ongoing role for Parliament in examining the results of trade negotiations before entering into binding legal agreements and implementing legislation. Similarly, the report on the Free Trade Area of the Americas expected later in the fall will have a similar effect in helping to define the Canadian interests and position in the hemispheric trade negotiations which will move forward this fall with the two meetings in Toronto of the Americas Business Forum and the meeting of hemispheric trade ministers. It is the hope and expectation of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that our Report will have an important effect on the Government's position entering into the new WTO round. …

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