When free-trade talks were about cab sauv, not cars

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - OPINION - PAT CAR­NEY

For­mer sen­a­tor and cabi­net min­is­ter

In trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have per­sonal “must-haves.” For Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, a for­mer re­al­i­tyTV star, it’s dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out what he wants out of the con­tin­u­ing NAFTA talks be­tween Canada and the United States. Some­times he’s con­cerned about autos; at other times, Wisconsin cheese. Of­ten he ap­pears ready to can­cel the agree­ment al­to­gether.

For pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, when the world’s two great­est trad­ing part­ners ne­go­ti­ated the orig­i­nal Canada-U.S. free-trade agree­ment in 1987, his “musthave” was wine.

Specif­i­cally, the for­mer Hol­ly­wood movie star and Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor wanted ac­cess to Cana­dian mar­kets for Cal­i­for­nia wine.

At the time, I was min­is­ter of in­ter­na­tional trade in Brian Mul­roney’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment with man­dated re­spon­si­bil­ity for the free­trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, a huge leap of faith into the uncharted wa­ters of a com­pre­hen­sive free-trade agree­ment be­tween two inde- pen­dent coun­tries.

Cal­i­for­nia wine? When my coun­ter­part, U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive Clay­ton Yeut­ter pre­sented the pres­i­dent’s de­mand, I was per­plexed. Wine wasn’t a Cana­dian pri­or­ity. Our top-level ne­go­ti­at­ing teams were aimed at re­duc­ing tar­iffs, or bor­der taxes, on all goods and some ser­vices be­tween Canada and the United States over a 10year pe­riod, a breath­tak­ing goal that would pro­foundly al­ter the fu­ture of our coun­try.

We were wrestling with com­plex is­sues such as rules of ori­gin, or what per­cent­age of any good must be ac­tu­ally pro­duced in the two coun­tries, or how to man­age our sup­ply of dairy and poul­try prod­ucts to en­sure the sur­vival of Cana­dian fam­ily farms so that Cana­dian con­sumers had ac­cess to Cana­dian milk, eggs and cheese. Canada had tougher food­safety re­stric­tions than the United States did.

Mr. Mul­roney’s “must-have” was an in­de­pen­dent way of set­tling trade dis­putes be­tween the two coun­tries. With­out a fair dis­pute-set­tle­ment mech­a­nism, any trade agree­ment wasn’t worth much, the for­mer labour lawyer told his cabi­net.

Other key is­sues were pro­tect­ing Cana­dian cul­tural in­dus­tries and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, such as copy­right and patents.

These were the same is­sues ne­go­ti­ated in 1994, when Mex­ico joined Canada and the United States in the North Amer­i­can free­trade agree­ment and are still hot­but­ton items in the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions de­manded by Mr. Trump to mod­ern­ize our trad­ing re­la­tion­ships in the era of the in­ter­net, au­to­ma­tion and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

No one has men­tioned wine, at least not in the me­dia. But back in the day, the Cana­dian wine in­dus­try was small. The most pop­u­lar prod­uct was a sweet, fuzzy wine called Baby Duck. Or Fud­dle Duck. Even Luv-A-Duck. Most Cana­di­ans drank im­ported wines from Europe.

Buy­ing wine was a furtive af­fair. In Ot­tawa’s Lower Town govern­ment liquor store, a cus­tomer checked a list of stock, wrote one’s choice on a pa­per form and handed it to a clerk. He dis­ap­peared into the back and emerged with the selected item in a brown bag and ex­changed it for cash.

Wines were reg­u­lated and sold by the prov­inces. The is­sue was raised at a first min­is­ters meet­ing be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and the 10 pro­vin­cial pre­miers in the Langevin Block. As trade min­is­ter, I was the only out­sider. Since ini­tially there were no note tak­ers or trans­la­tors at these meet­ings and as a for­mer jour­nal­ist (like cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land), I scrib­bled notes on the pol­ished oval con­fer­ence ta­ble.

When our pug­na­cious chief ne­go­tia­tor, Si­mon Reis­man, at­tended to brief the pre­miers on progress of the talks, he said the Amer­i­can de­mands re­gard­ing wine would wipe out 70 per cent of the in­dus­try in B.C.’s Okana­gan Val­ley. Si­mon looked at me; he knew my fam­ily were pi­o­neer home­stead­ers and cat­tle ranch­ers in the Okana­gan and I would be blamed for any dam­age to the Val­ley’s econ­omy.

I looked wor­ried. Then-On­tario pre­mier David Peter­son looked re­flec­tive. B.C. pre­mier Bill Van­der Zalm looked cheer­ful. Prime Min­is­ter Mul­roney didn’t re­act. He was a tee­to­taller, and Cana­dian wines were not gen­er­ally served at Ot­tawa’s diplo­matic events.

So ac­cess to Amer­i­can do­mes­tic wines was in­cluded, and Pres­i­dent Rea­gan went back to watch­ing old movies in the White House as we ne­go­ti­ated in the Trea­sury Build­ing across the street, eat­ing take­out chicken and drink­ing luke­warm cof­fee, re­buff­ing the Amer­i­cans’ fi­nal charge to in­clude cul­tural in­dus­tries in the deal as the clock ticked down to mid­night on Oct. 3, when the pres­i­dent’s “fast track” au­thor­ity ran out.

Back in Ot­tawa, the cabi­net voted on an ad­just­ment pack­age for the Cana­dian wine pro­duc­ers to re­plant their vine­yards with higher grade grapes. On the plane back home to B.C., Pre­mier Van­der Zalm dis­cussed how his govern­ment planned to in­tro­duce in­cen­tives to pro­duce world-com­pet­i­tive vin­tage wines. The in­dus­try pulled out their vines and re­planted.

To­day, the Cana­dian wine in­dus­try is thriv­ing in many prov­inces, ex­pected to reach a mar­ket value of ap­prox­i­mately $11-bil­lion in 2019. Cana­dian wines, some pro­duced by First Na­tions winer­ies, are win­ning global com­pe­ti­tions, al­though you can still buy Baby Duck.

The Okana­gan Val­ley is cov­ered in ver­dant fields of grapes. My fam­ily’s live­stock has been re­duced to two lla­mas. We cel­e­brate fam­ily re­unions in a lo­cal win­ery on the site of a for­mer cat­tle range.

So as I raise a glass of B.C. pinot gris to Min­is­ter Free­land and her team, I re­mind them of the sign in one vine­yard: BE­WARE OF RATTLESNAKES.


For­mer in­ter­na­tional trade min­is­ter for Canada Pat Car­ney, left, and chief ne­go­tia­tor Si­mon Reis­man con­grat­u­late each other af­ter the re­lease of the fi­nal draft of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agree­ment in Ot­tawa in De­cem­ber, 1987.

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