China could be Canada’s best new trade friend
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.