Editorial: Justin Trudeau’s trade trials and errors

Justin Trudeau is fond of lauding Canada’s long-standing role as a trading nation. But the country’s prime minister has yet to provide much evidence that he is the leader to ensure Canada builds on that tradition.

Aside from signing CETA (Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) on behalf of Canada in late 2016, Trudeau has had little success in securing more market opportunities for Canadian business.

The controversy in mid-November over the prime minister’s perceived snub of resurrected Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations points to a lack of international trade experience that could prove costly for this country. With Canada’s limited progress thus far in negotiating a new North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian momentum in developing export diversity in massive markets like China is critical. China, after all, is now Canada’s second-biggest trading partner. However, it still accounts for only 4% of Canada’s exports and consequently runs a distant second to the United States as a Canadian export destination.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, opening avenues to world markets for Canadian energy faces growing threats under a Trudeau regime that appears reluctant to take a tough leadership role on marketing one of the country’s most important exports.

Impediments to open trade within the country also do little to support Canada’s trading-nation pedigree.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision on the Gerard Comeau case heard last week could help clarify inter-provincial business constraints, but it’s government that needs to eliminate them. That provinces are still championing the kind of free trade barriers within Canada that resulted in a fine being levied on Comeau after he brought beer and spirits to his home province of New Brunswick from neighbouring Quebec speaks to the parochial vision shared by the country’s political and business leadership.

That has to change if Canada has any hope of evolving from U.S. resource warehouse farm team to major-league international player.