Despite the fact that foreign policy has rarely determined federal elections in Canada, this past national election saw events outside Canada intervene several times during the course of the election campaign. It highlighted the fact that this election was about change and that, for many Canadians, there was no place that change was more desired than in foreign policy.

A key moment during the campaign for foreign policy was the Munk Debate on foreign policy. On the topic of International trade, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Harper spared over transparency on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and exchanged back and forth on their respective parties’ support for trade deals.

Mr: Trudeau:
We need international trade agreements. We know it is good for jobs. We need to attract foreign investment[…]Export-intensive industries pay 50 per cent higher wages than non-exporting industries..”

What all candidates failed to mention was how important free trade with Canada can potentially be for developing countries. This message was made clear by the Conservative government with the merging of Canada’s foreign aid agency (CIDA) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and targeting of free trade agreements (FTA) with development partner countries. Of the 25 countries that the Canada identified as a country of focus for development , FTAs are in force with 5 countries: Honduras, Panama, Jordan, Colombia and Peru. Canada also has an FTA concluded, but not yet in force, with Ukraine, ongoing FTA negotiations with the Caribbean Community, and is currently in exploratory FTA discussions with the Philippines. Furthermore, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which Canada has concluded, effectively means Canada has also concluded an FTA with Vietnam.

In Aniket Bhushan’s report “Beyond Aid: Trade, Investment, and Remittances between Canada and Developing Countries, the senior researcher illustrates how the aid landscape has changed and highlights the particular importance of trade flows. He compares the value of trade to the amount of development assistance, foreign direct investment and remittances that developing countries receive.  In 2012, trade (measured by imports into Canada from the developing countries) was the largest financial flow, while foreign aid was the smallest. Comparisons between aid and non aid development policies are important to foster a more refined discussion about policy coherence. However, increased value of Canada’s trade with its development partners is only one way to consider the topic. Equally important is an examination of how Canadian FTAs development partners to integrate into global value chains. Have Canada’s FTA helped developing countries integrate in the world economy?

Canadian foreign policy has been reviewed relentlessly over the years, despite little change to the underlying objectives identified in Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien foreign policy reviews. Canada’s fundamental foreign policy objectives have always included in some configuration: 1) the promotion of Canadian prosperity, 2) the protection of global security, stability, and order, and 3) the promotion of Canadian values of human rights and the development of human capacity around the world. Considering that Canada’s fundamental overarching foreign policy objectives have and will likely remain more or less remain consistent with past reviews, there are some who would say the last thing we need is another foreign policy review.

In view of the past election’s theme of change, combined with the attention paid to Canada’s foreign affairs, a review of foreign policy is to be expected, and is needed on the topic of development policies. Under the Conservative government, trade became an important means for Canada’s policy on development, but more analysis is needed to determine the real impact. More important than having the new government attempt to repackage timeless objectives of Canadian foreign policy, would be an in depth analysis of the best means to try to achieve each objective.  If the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau revives the long tradition of conducting foreign policy reviews, an in depth analysis on the means to achieve the development of people around the world could be a focal point, considering the significant changes that have taken place with regard to the means of achieving this objective. Such an analysis should avoid the re-identification of priority sectors or countries for concentration, and focus on only the types of contributions that make an undeniable difference to those in need. Measuring the impact of Canada’s FTAs with developing countries could indicate whether increased trade really offers a valuable complementary role to bilateral aid that should continue to be given great emphasis.


Alexandria Bookhout is an MA student at NPSIA. 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

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