Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on Latin Amer­ica

Trudeau should look no fur­ther than our southern neigh­bours

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Peter McKenna is pro­fes­sor and chair of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land and the ed­i­tor of Canada Looks South: In Search of an Amer­i­cas Pol­icy

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.

CP FILE PHOTO

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.