Invited to testify before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on Thursday, March 24th, 2016 on the perspectives of Canada in connection with international trade agreements, Bernard Colas stated in his introductory statement that Canada should:
- Reinvest in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and
- Address major global challenges while ensuring the coherence of international trade policies, and respond to these issues.
Reinvest in the WTO
In effect, it is time that Canada renews its contribution to the development of the WTO. It has the competence and credibility to do this and this can only be to the long-term benefit of Canadians and of the international system.
The multiplication these last years of bilateral and regional free trade agreements has affected the relevance of the WTO and its dispute settlement system despite the fact that it is still very used. In addition, it is possible to resolve some of the issues such as the reduction of agricultural subsidies or the development of the least developed countries only on the multilateral level. Finally, of the provisions that are found in the “new generation” bilateral agreements, relating for instance to intellectual property, would highly benefit from being part of the WTO agreements.
In addition, the bilateral and regional agreements have a role to play. They are particularly useful to give a privileged access to our businesses and diversify our markets. The provisions mostly used by the businesses that we serve primarily focus on: (i) the elimination of customs duties, (ii) the mutual recognition of standards, (iii) the liberalization of services, (iv) the government procurement, and (v) the movement of business people.
Responding to major challenges
As second point, it is useful to recall that our world is facing urgent challenges to address. These challenges include the reduction of greenhouse gases, the reduction of poverty and sustainable development.
To do this, Canada would benefit from defining clear policies that respond to some of these issues and to ensure that commercial policies are coherent and support the achievement of these objectives. With the new budget, the Canadian government seems to concentrate efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and foster a green economy. It will have to ensure that its efforts are not limited by its commercial policy.
To ensure such consistency it is also essential to rely on credible economic, environmental and social impact assessments and engage in a transparent process that allows for open discussions on these issues, before and during negotiations. Canada can take model on the European Union which conducts independent and thorough Sustainable Impact Assessments, as well as on both the United States and Europe’s formal advisory committees who intervene before and during their negotiations.
Trade and Intellectual property
This introductory presentation was followed by a short presentation by Mr. Jim Balsillie, former President and Co-CEO of Research In Motion (RIM) on the need for Canada to adopt a strategic policy of innovation, then a period of questions on trade agreements and intellectual property. The senators have engaged in dialog on the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and its provisions on intellectual property as well as on the opportunity for Canada to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) concluded with the European Union. The protection of intellectual property in China has also been the subject of discussions.