/Farmers know the value of free trade; unfortunately, most Canadians don’t

Farmers know the value of free trade; unfortunately, most Canadians don’t


“In Canada, we live and die by what we sell abroad,” said Janice Gross Stein, to a room full of agricultural representatives. It is a simple, poignant truth about Canadian economics that is unencumbered by the drudgery of bureaucracy. It’s obvious, but rarely stated with such impactful brevity.

The University of Toronto professor and founder of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy was a speaker at the Grow Canada conference in Calgary.

In Canada, we live and die by what we sell abroad

Janice Gross Stein

The comment wasn’t especially profound. Most people involved in agriculture have at the very least a tacit understanding of the importance of trade. But most Canadians do not. Most people live in cities, where the consequences of poor or healthy or nonexistent trade relationships can be diluted or lost in a plentiful landscape.

On my farm, the learning curve has been steep. Treated as a business, my farming operation will only become stronger the better and more clearly I understand the nuances of the global network into which my crops are sold.

When my local grain company is unable to purchase my crop because China is no longer a Canadian customer, politics in other countries suddenly become more than a weekend read.

“We need to exploit every free trade agreement there is,” said Stein, who knew very well that there were people in that room who could convert her words into action.

Our inherent subservience to, and reliance on, the United States and our trepidatious sanctimony about being Canadian has made it difficult for us to make confident, independent moves in a world that requires them. Canada as more than a “plus one” for the U.S. is a storyline we have the opportunity to write.

We’re waiting for a messiah in a world that doesn’t have one

Goldy Hyder, the president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada

“We’re waiting for a messiah in a world that doesn’t have one,” Goldy Hyder, the president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, told the Grow Canada crowd. “’I can’t wait until somebody comes along and fixes this.’ That is us. We need to figure it out. Canada was born on third base and thinks it hit a triple. We’re comfortable. We’re cocky. We just do business with the U.S. We need to shake that up.”

Hyder, like Stein, believes Canada has under-utilized its existing free-trade agreements. The recent news of the progress made on USMCA is a positive step, but Canada has a lot of room to grow under the canopy of a long list of free-trade agreements currently in effect.

There is a sense, however, that Canada needs to get its house in order before its international business presence is taken seriously.

“We could free up four per cent GDP internally if we didn’t have inter-provincial barriers and internal regulatory roadblocks,” said Hyder. “Japan has trillions of dollars ready to invest, but wonders if Canada is one country or 10, and I didn’t even tell them about the territories.”

Canada has the potential. That has never been the problem.

If anything, hearing these speakers at Grow Canada affirmed that the intuitions many of us have regarding where Canada sits on the world stage and where it could sit are more accurate than we may have thought.

Trade is not important to Canada, it is vital. The agricultural community would like to see Canada’s regulatory framework reflect an economy that values trade. We make/grow good things that the world wants and we want access to the good things we can’t make or grow ourselves.

“I want to see us have the best regulatory environment,” said Hyder. “It’s not rocket science. It just takes political will and leadership.”

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