Capitalizing on Latin America
Trudeau should look no further than our southern neighbours
Both the recent Throne Speech and the cabinet mandate letters point to a broad liberal internationalist or Pearsonian middlepowerism underscoring Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy orientation.
But there is a clear lack of specifics or direction. Besides an emphasis on rebuilding Canada U.S. relations, there is very little sense of where the new Trudeau government wants to take Canadian foreign policy.
“The fact remains that Canada can truly punch above its weight in the Americas if it chooses. It’s actually there for the taking — especially since the United States seems intent on ignoring the region these days. Certainly Mr. Trudeau could do worse than following in his father’s footsteps and really making Latin America a signature component of his own foreign policy universe.”
It is possible that the Trudeau Liberals will focus more on Africa just because of the previous Harper government’s embrace of Latin America. But moving away or downgrading relations with the Americas would be a huge mistake.
Fifty years ago, it was true that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean barely registered on Ottawa’s political radar. It was a region replete with rights-abusing military governments, stagnating and mostly closed economies, and grinding poverty and crippling indebtedness. It was also virtually impossible to get Canadian diplomats, notwithstanding the warmer climes, to even consider a highlevel posting to the Americas.
Much of that has changed today. The region itself is home to some of the world’s emerging economic powers — Mexico and Brazil. Many of the region’s democracies are growing economically, welcoming foreign investment, and developing sizeable middle classes. It is no wonder that Canada is now paying attention to what is happening in its own hemisphere. But it wasn’t always so.
While prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau singled out the region as a priority in his 1970 foreign policy document, Foreign Policy for Canadians, he largely ignored Latin America. And although prime minister Brian Mulroney opted to take our seat at the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990, he maintained a respectful distance from the so-called U.S. “backyard.”
Prime Minister Jean Chretien did bring his “Team Canada” trade mission to South America and wisely broke bread with Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1998, but he essentially saw Latin America in narrow trade and investment terms. It was actually Stephen Harper who launched an “Americas Strategy” in 2007 to make the region a core element of his government’s foreign policy. It wasn’t hugely successful, but at least he tried to shine the spotlight on the wider region.
Of course, it makes imminently good sense for Ottawa to focus attention on expanding and deepening Canada’s participation in inter-American affairs. There is little doubt that Canada’s future political, economic, diplomatic and security interests will reside squarely in the Americas — and our own backyard.
It is worth noting that Canada is one of the largest foreign investors in Latin America — already exceeding $175 billion. And two-way trade between Canada and the Americas has grown substantially from roughly $40 billion in 2006 to some $56 billion in 2014 (or by some 40 per cent).
In addition, Canada has signed free trade deals with Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Honduras and is presently working on a handful of others (including the Mercosur countries of South America).
Furthermore, major Canadian companies — including the likes of Scotiabank, Bombardier, SNCLavalin and Brookfield Asset Management — have established a solid business footing in much of the region.
In addition, approximately 11 per cent of immigrants to Canada come from a host of Latin American countries.
And Canada has a wide variety of University exchange programs with several countries in the Americas, while Air Canada now has direct flights to a slew of Latin American destinations such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina and Colombia.
Shifting away from the Americas runs the risk of wasting all of this positive momentum, personal relationship-building efforts, and a fair amount of goodwill.
Instead, Mr. Trudeau should be looking to capitalize on much of this earlier groundwork and political outreach.
For instance, Canada needs to be careful that the Americans don’t try to squeeze us out of Cuba and resume their role as key trader and investor in the country.
Mr. Trudeau would be wise to think about visiting Cuba in the near term — where the Cubans are anxious to unveil a statue of his father in Havana to recognize the closeness of bilateral relations — to reassert the Canadian advantage.
The fact remains that Canada can truly punch above its weight in the Americas if it chooses.
It’s actually there for the taking — especially since the United States seems intent on ignoring the region these days.
Certainly Mr. Trudeau could do worse than following in his father’s footsteps and really making Latin America a signature component of his own foreign policy universe.
Newly sworn-in Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, left, receives congratulations from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in early November.