Because the Trudeau government fleshes out its Indo-Pacific strategy, Western Canada is looking for more certainty from the Liberals on expanding energy exports to Asia.
“There are people in Ottawa who understand what our energy mix is, and what it must be in the longer term,” Alberta Trade Minister Rajan Sawhney in an interview this week.
“And there are others who’re pushing back.”
Last November, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly unveiled the federal government’s approach to the Indo-Pacific, which calls for deeper economic and cultural links with countries that may counterbalance China’s growing influence.
Sawhney said the strategy was seen as a positive first step in Western Canada, but that it needs to answer more of her region’s trade issues. The Alberta minister is planning a summit so provinces can touch base and make a concerted pitch to Ottawa to refine parts of the strategy.
In a recent virtual event held by the Canada West Foundation, experts from the Prairie provinces noted that their region has a disproportionate amount of trade with commodity-hungry China.
Stephen Nagy, a Canadian who works as a politics professor on the International Christian University in Tokyo, said Western Canada’s ties with China mean the region is on the whims of Ottawa’s relations with Beijing.
Nonetheless, he told the panel the trade relationship is “a net good” for Canada.
“Throughout the pandemic _ in the course of the highest point of tension between China and Canada _ trade between Western Canada and China increased,” he said.
Nagy said the federal strategy does job of listing ways Canada can proceed to construct on its economic ties with China, by limiting business involving technology and sensitive industries but broadening agriculture and resource exports.
He argued that Liberal ministers have been less clear, with some calling for closer trade ties and others advocating an overall draw back from China. He said he worries the mixed messaging will only worsen amid allegations of election interference.
“It should impact western Canadian exporters and the way they should think concerning the region,” Nagy said.
He also argued the strategy’s value statement on the environment and Indigenous rights “has mismatches for the region’s needs,” since many countries are focused on development over sustainability, and have varied understandings of reconciliation.
Mac Ross, Pulse Canada’s director of trade policy, told the panel his sector faces serious challenges in Asia, despite Canada being the world’s top exporter of pulse crops.
“There really is, we feel, a significant opportunity for western Canadian agriculture to position ourselves because the leading supplier of agri-food products within the region,” Ross said for Winnipeg.
“At the identical time, it is a region of the world where protectionist and anarchic tendencies are on the rise,” he said.
India and Pakistan have slapped sudden tariffs and crop fumigation policies which have created headaches for exporters. Nepal and Sri Lanka have implemented abrupt import bans on certain products to try stabilizing domestic money flow.
“The common feature amongst all these issues is that Canada has really had no advance warning. These issues only became apparent once shipments were denied entry at port, or in transit on the time,” said Ross.
“It’s develop into a game a little bit of a game of Whack-a-Mole, with increasingly less of a cohesive strategy on how one can proactively address these systemic issues in a region just like the Indo-Pacific.”
Ross argued Canada is falling behind its peers in constructing the strong relationships in Asian markets that will help anticipate and challenge such trade barriers.
Meredith Lilly, a Carleton University economics professor who participated within the panel, said the federal strategy lacks specifics, resembling how precisely the trade-commissioner service will scale up and when businesses can be offered more supports to expand into the region.
“It was very clear that officials didn’t even have a developed work plan for implementation,” said Lilly, a former senior advisor to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Still, she said the dearth of concrete plans gives provinces a probability to get on the identical page and push Ottawa to emphasise certain topics – though she warned that contradictory demands from provinces would delay Ottawa scaling up its involvement within the region. She argued that a domestic clash over softwood lumber policies hampered Ottawa’s response to disputes with the U.S.
Lilly added that the Liberals might wish to reconsider a few of their environmental policies, resembling proposed regulations to cap emissions from fertilizer and the scope of federal carbon pricing, given the likelihood that such provisions will make Canadian products costlier in the worldwide marketplace.
Corporate groups just like the Business Council of Canada were critical of the strategy for not outlining a pledge to get more energy to market, resembling a commitment to ramp up exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to East Asia.
Lilly said that is especially crucial given what number of pipeline projects that had foreign support have been thwarted lately.
“Canada has a damaged status in the realm of with the ability to bring promised energy infrastructure to market, and foreign investors will not be suddenly going to imagine that we are able to construct recent infrastructure simply because it’s carrying fuel sources that the federal government now supports,” she said.
Sawhney said the Liberals must address that challenge of their financial statement this spring.
“On this budget, I’m in search of a more comprehensive statement and support for the energy sector normally,” she said.
Sawhney has held roundtables in Calgary and Edmonton concerning the Indo-Pacific strategy, and spoken along with her peers in the opposite three western provinces.
She said the three commonest topics are energy, agri-food expansion and a desire for more foreign-credential recognition and immigration supports to bridge labour gaps. She said the primary two had “little or no by way of substance” within the strategy.
Sawhney said she met with Global Affairs Canada staff in Ottawa while Joly was abroad on diplomatic business, and pushed for LNG to be reflected within the strategy
“The response was a little bit bit defensive,” Sawhney said.
“It was more like, ‘Well, we’re really focused on renewables, that is where we’re going and we’re really focused on transition.’ And I said, ‘Look, so is Alberta. We’re all aligned; we’re all getting into the identical direction. But we cannot ignore the fact, which is that there remains to be a spot for oil and gas.”’