One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when news emerged yesterday of a tentative NAFTA deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Technically, Donald Trump wants it renamed to the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – or USMC.” Credit must be given to the negotiators from all three nations who were at it for a year despite obvious hurdles.
While citizens, pundits, economists and journalists work diligently to dissect the deal, it is essential to keep in mind that it is taking place in a larger global trading arena that’s in the early stages of transformation. While the American president seeks to fundamentally alter the world’s trade balance in his favour, other economic players are increasingly cooperating in a fashion that seeks to circumvent the high stakes brinksmanship coming from the White House in recent months.
Many have been quietly meeting behind the scenes and in various global capitals to strengthen their own existing agreements and plan out new ones. And sometimes it happens right under Trump’s nose. After listening to the president excoriate the non-binding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres presided over a meeting of the Compact, praising the fact that it had been approved by every UN member except America. But it was his words at the end of the session that flew in the face of the unsettling Trump Doctrine: “This Compact recognizes that while every sovereign state has the prerogative to govern its borders, our interdependent world demands solutions that are anchored in cooperation and our pursuit of the common good.”
Just a few days later, as reported by Reuters, Canada’s Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland reminded her audience of those days, “when there was clear American leadership in the world.” It is no accident that Canada’s Trade Minister, Jim Carr, spoke of our need to “diversify our trade.” How? Through fashioned agreements with the European Union, as well as with Asian and Latin American nations.
France’s president Emmanuel Macron acknowledged the excesses of globalization in his speech at the UN, yet his solution was to advocate for “a new world balance” among participating nations. In a direct shot across the American president’s bow, Macron declared in no uncertain terms:
“We forget that the genocides that led to your being here today were fueled by the language we are growing accustomed to, because they were fueled by the demagoguery we applaud, because we are currently seeing international law and all forms of cooperation crumbling, as if it were business as usual – out of fear, out of complicity, because it looks good.”
Our reality is that with America being so central to our history and our present, not to mention our future, we must expend endless energies at negotiating with its complexities and impulses. But we must also move on, enhancing other trading relationships with nations seeking more peaceful and equitable outcomes. This is something that Macron and other leaders like Justin Trudeau must address.
We didn’t get into the mess we are in today because of Donald Trump or authoritarian practices. We are here because the global economic system has been permitted to shape itself towards the few rather than the many. It is the lack of equality, work and opportunity that has driven the push towards radicalism in the mostly deindustrialized prosperous nations. If a future of realigned trading nations fails to address their own inequalities, little they develop will ease the public turbulence in their nations.
The days of globalized countries displaying deference to America will ultimately draw to a close should the United States continue to brandish its economic sword. Even militarily this is already taking place, with France’s president calling 10 European nations together in Paris to plan a prepared military force of up to 100,000 troops, without an American component. New avenues of cooperation will inevitably be channeled into the fields of culture, science, research, climate change, space exploration and civil society. When Donald Trump declared that “Europe has to take its fate into its own hands,” it is unlikely that even he was aware of the collaborations being struck in quiet conference rooms around the Westernized world.
Given this country’s earned expertise in diplomatic relations, it is inevitable that Canadian leaders are willing participants in this new world order no longer led by the only superpower left. The extremism from south of the border will inevitably result in a new era of accommodation elsewhere, but the goal should never be supporting the “business as usual” economic practices of the past. Instead it should result in the turning of economic might to the vulnerability of the hundreds of millions in their own collective lands. Ignore them and all that newly formed collaboration will come to nothing.