Brian Lee Crowley

Thinking, not emoting, about NAFTA

One of the big public policy issues Canada is wrestling with is whether, and on what conditions, NAFTA can be renewed. Unfortunately, the political class seems more intent on whipping up emotion around the topic than helping Canadians to come to grips with the real issues and how we might turn this mess to Canada’s advantage. In order to fill this gap, Sean Speer and I co-wrote three op-eds (and Frank Buckley joined us on the first one) hoping to illuminate for Canadians some of the stakes, the realistic options and where Canada’s interests truly lie in these negotiations. In retrospect I see that the summary of our argument is that the NAFTA negotiations are like any dispute in a long-term relationship, like a marriage. There are three lessons to be learned:

  1. Get to understand what the other person wants. It’s not all about you!
  2. Look inward to find where you might have contributed to envenoming the dispute. You might think all the fault lies elsewhere, but usually responsibility is shared.
  3. Before your roving eye draws you to another potential partner, be sure you really understand how much you have invested in your existing relationship and how hard it would be to replace.

Sean, Frank and I applied Lesson One in the Globe on 3 July 2018 in which the three of us laid out what the Trump administration wants and how their world view is an important break from many of the assumptions of recent decades. The fact that Trump may come up with the wrong answers to the questions that exercise him does not mean he is wrong to ask them. There is also a video version of this piece on the page.

Then Sean and I applied Lesson Two in a 6 July 2018 piece for Macleans’ magazine where we reviewed the many ways that Ottawa has antagonised the Trump administration while bringing no benefit to Canada. As the current occupant of the White House might have tweeted, “Sad!”

Finally, we applied Lesson Three in a 20 July 2018 Globe op-ed examining the idea that “diversifying” our trade, especially to China, will somehow offer some kind of realistic alternative to our deep economic entanglement with the US. Not bloody likely!

Scridb filter

Getting real about China, on NAFTA, national security and trade diversification

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet these days about China, as any sensible person should. Everyone seems fixated on Donald Trump bullying Canada (and that is a reasonable concern) but the number of people who hold up China as some kind of alternative is truly staggering. If you want real, subtle, long-term bullying in unapologetic pursuit of national interests, you cannot do better than China. Add to that that China is an authoritarian, autocratic and repressive country without even a nodding acquaintance with the rule of law and a hostile relationship with the western alliance, etc., etc., etc., and China gets less appealing every day as a partner for Canada. Here are three recent op-eds in which I develop these various themes:

In the 30 May 2018 edition of the Globe, I took aim at China for its clear threats to Canadians’ national security. The context was Ottawa’s rather unexpected but welcome decision to veto the takeover of Canadian construction giant Aecon by a Chinese firm. As I pointed out, if this means that Ottawa is going to take national security threats from China more seriously (including their to-date insouciance about Huawei’s deep involvement in building Canada’s next generation 5G wireless network) that is very good news indeed and not before time.

Then came the G7 Summit. The G7 seems to me a little adrift these days, an organisation in search of a mission that would unite the disparate interests of Japan, North America and the largest European economies. My suggestion in an 8 July piece in Inside Policy: they should all agree to unite and reinforce their current disparate efforts to confront China’s disgraceful behaviour in the South China Sea that is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of navigation. There is also a video version of this piece.

Finally, Ottawa has been ramping up its focus on “trade diversification” as a kind of defensive card to play in its NAFTA negotiations with Washington. But of all the daft ideas, the one that China can replace or even partially compensate for our trade relationship with the US is surely the daftest. Read my op-ed, co-authored with Sean Speer, in the Globe of 20 July 2018 about why China is no trade saviour for Canada.

Scridb filter

The arguments why Canada should join TPP

In my February 5th column for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature I lay out what I think are two of the chief reasons to adopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The first is that it is a stealth modernisation of NAFTA and we cannot afford to let Mexico get these benefits while turning them down ourselves. Second, it puts tremendous pressure on China to play by the established trade rules.

Scridb filter

Obama loves us and leaves us…again

On his first visit to Canada, President Obama proclaimed “I love this country.”

He failed to specify his love was of the tough variety. Ever since Canada’s relationship with the US president has been a long list of disappointments punctuated by the occasional outright provocation.

The latest punctuation mark is how the president is trying to sell the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal) to Americans: by saying that it will be a good trade agreement, not a bad one like–wait for it– NAFTA was. What is this man thinking?

Read my latest column in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers for my thoughts on how Obama has NAFTA all wrong. Like Keystone. Like the new crossing to Detroit. Like country of original labelling. Like how he agreed to Canada joining the TPP talks. Like…well, do I need to go on?

Scridb filter

NAFTA disappoints, but what to do?

In my latest screed for the ROB, I point out that for all its benefits, NAFTA is now showing its age. Twenty-five years after Canada and the US signed their bilateral FTA on which NAFTA was later based, attention in trade liberalisation and economic integration has shifted to other forums, such as Canada-EU and US-EU trade negotiations, or the TPP. Yet while new benefits won in such negotiations are also likely to benefit our NAFTA partners, other things are specific to the NAFTA relationship, like border management and regulatory mutual recognition. Despite that there seems little appetite on the part of the US to think North America, even though their economy is hurt by the many barriers that remain between our highly integrated economies.

Scridb filter

Brian Lee Crowley