China could be Canada’s best new trade friend

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ed­i­to­rial ap­peared in the Win­nipeg Free Press:

As Canada and the United States pre­pare to meet for the first time since U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was sworn into of­fice, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau may want to keep China’s stance on trade in his back of mind. Be­cause, while Pres­i­dent Trump cast off the man­tle of world trade lead­er­ship, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was al­ready stoop­ing to pick it up and Canada, a na­tion that lives by trad­ing, must pay close at­ten­tion to who is lead­ing the trade pa­rade and where they are tak­ing us.

At the World Eco­nomic Forum at Davos, Switzer­land Pres­i­dent Xi’s Jan. 17 speech stood in stark con­trast to Trump’s pro­tec­tion­ism. His first ap­pear­ance at the an­nual gather­ing of eco­nomic thinkers who have shaped the glob­al­iza­tion agenda for the last 40 years. China had pre­vi­ously sent low-level del­e­ga­tions to the Davos meet­ings and showed lit­tle in­ter­est in free trade. But this was a dra­matic shift in Chi­nese think­ing.

Pres­i­dent Xi likened pro­tec­tion­ism to “lock­ing one­self in a dark room” in the hopes of pro­tect­ing one­self from dan­ger, but in so do­ing, cut­ting off all “light and air.”

China has done ex­tremely well with glob­al­iza­tion, rais­ing a great part of its pop­u­la­tion out of poverty in the years since the death of Mao Ze­dong and be­com­ing a huge trad­ing na­tion. It still pro­tects its gi­ant, sta­te­owned in­dus­trial mo­nop­o­lies, but Pres­i­dent Xi may rec­og­nize, bet­ter than Pres­i­dent Trump, the ad­van­tages of com­mer­cial com­pe­ti­tion and re­moval of pro­tec­tive trade bar­ri­ers.

De­spite Trump’s pro­tec­tion­ist in­stincts, the drive to­ward freer world trade can con­tinue if China ac­tu­ally puts its money where Pres­i­dent Xi’s mouth is. The Pa­cific Rim na­tions that signed the late lamented Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship treaty may be avail­able for some kind of or­ga­nized re­moval of trade bar­ri­ers.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­tec­tion­ist pol­icy claims Canada’s at­ten­tion now be­cause the U.S. is our main ex­port mar­ket. But we should not mis­take Trump’s in­stincts for a law of na­ture or the wave of the fu­ture. Freer trade is still the route to eco­nomic ex­pan­sion. China’s new in­ter­est in the sub­ject should en­cour­age Canada to keep pulling down walls.

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