Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Canada Needs Bigger Profile Abroad: Provinces

Canada Needs Bigger Profile Abroad: Provinces
(CKTB-FM – Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press)

The Harper government needs to beef up Canada's profile overseas if it wants to stimulate more trade and create jobs, say provincial trade ministers. The ministers were meeting with their federal counterpart, Stockwell Day, on Thursday to discuss strategies to help exporters and investors during the economic downturn.

One of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's priorities when he took office was bolstering Canada's presence on the world stage. But some provinces – as well as retired diplomats and former Conservative Trade Minister David Emerson – have been critical of his cuts to the Foreign Affairs Department. In particular, budget reductions in diplomacy and closures of Canadian missions abroad have been condemned as short-sighted. The latest closures, revealed this week, are slated for Cambodia and Bosnia.

Meanwhile, the United States has been pouring more resources into its international profile, as has the United Kingdom and Australia.

Ontario Trade Minister Sandra Pupatello complimented Day for his "activist agenda," saying he took the trade portfolio in the right direction with an aggressive travel schedule that has taken him to China and India for long sojourns.

Harper has not visited India, China or Brazil – the world's biggest emerging markets – since taking office three years ago.

"In our experiences abroad, we are given a clear message by leadership in other countries that they do want to see Canada," Pupatello told reporters. "And while they really do appreciate provincial intervention, they really anticipate seeing ministers and the prime minister."

Ron Stevens, Alberta's minister of international and intergovernmental relations, also praised Day's efforts, but stressed that it's only a beginning. "What we have to do as a trading nation is build upon what we have today, and in many of these countries people like Mr. Day are actually pretty respected," Stevens said.

"It's something that you have to tell people back home because, in truth, it is elected representatives that speak on behalf of countries. While a great job has been done in recent months, more has to be done to build upon what we have." Stevens noted that the western provinces were taking matters into their own hands by organizing their own trade missions to places like China and India.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien regularly led trade missions abroad with provincial premiers in tow as part of his Team Canada trips. Stevens said he would support the reintroduction of such missions, as long as they weren't just "photo-ops" with little strategic thought behind them.

The federal government is working to finalize new free-trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, and is in talks with the Caribbean community, Panama, the Dominican Republic and four Central American countries. Harper pressed his free trade goals during the Summit of the Americas last weekend.

There are also discussions underway with the European Union. "There's some final details that have to be worked out. We're hoping to make an announcement soon related to formal negotiations," Day said.

Day said he urged the provincial and territorial ministers to deal directly with American governors in neighbouring states to try and combat any signs of protectionism head-on. While Washington has committed to respecting NAFTA in its recent stimulus package, state and local governments are free to pursue "Buy American" measures when dealing with procurement contracts.

No comments: