Canada and the EU have been pursuing a historic free-trade agreement – one that would rival the scope and scale of NAFTA, currently the largest trade bloc in the world. This is the same agreement Jean Charest had championed in January.
It’s difficult to underestimate the opportunity this presents for Canada, and why we need to ensure the success of these negotiations.
- Economic potential: If negotiations are successful, Canada will be the only nation on Earth with unfettered access to a market that includes 450 million people of North America and 500 million people of Europe. The scope of this market would create a huge array of opportunities for Canadian businesses.
- Diversification: The Canadian economy could finally reduce its utter economic dependence on the United States by diversifying its portfolio, without losing NAFTA or significantly re-engineering it.
- A broker of power: By becoming the natural liason between North America and Europe, Canada may yet have a hope of resuming its previous role as a relevant and impartial international broker of power – this time economically as well as diplomatically.
- Infrastructure cost mitigation: One of the stipulations of this deal (and a sticking point for the Provinces) is that Canadian governments would be required to allow European companies to bid on government projects, as equals to their Canadian counterparts. While not immediately intuitive as an economic gain, this could allow us to pursue better value for government contracts, and trim the costs of the delivery of services by working with companies in nations that have experience with similar policies and models (such as single-payer health services). Canada needs to drive competition in this space without resorting to simple privatization; competitive international bidding will help push our tax dollars further.
- Increased immigration: Combined with better recognition of foreign credentials, Canada can better stem the “brain-drain” by importing talent. If we can overcome our professional xenophobia, we can bolster our skilled work force, and thus, our economy.
- Culture: As we’ve seen with NAFTA, a free trade deal is never just about commerce – culture moves just as freely. With new influence from Europe to balance that from the U.S., Canada will be able to push its cultural richness even further. With any luck, perhaps we can begin to build a stronger and uniquely-Canadian identity that is more than just a list of the ways in which we’re not the United States.
- Québec: This deal would go a long way to show the Quebec sovereignty movement that their great national question is no longer relevant. Charest’s Quebec can have its trade priorities championed by Canada, support a bilateral deal between Canada and the EU (instead of Quebec and the EU, for example), and have the benefits of this deal impact the country as a whole. Further, close experience with such an obviously multi-lingual and multi-cultural community might help dispel the irrational insistence that a unique language and culture necessitate a unique nation-state.
The profound irony here: the previous obstacle to negotiating an accord was that the Canadian provinces could not agree on details. The 27-member superfederal entity they were talking to (representing everyone from Ireland to Latvia to Finland to Greece) was able to speak with one voice, but 10 Canadian provinces? Forget it.
We really need to work on that.