This analysis was authored by The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C. who served as Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister from 2006-2015. Mr. Harper is currently the Chairman and CEO of Harper & Associates Consulting.
The Canada-European Union trade agreement has ﬁnally been signed – two years after negotiations were actually concluded. Yet it is still good news. The world desperately needs more international trade agreements. In an age where structural deﬁcits, loose money and low growth are becoming the norm, trade expansion represents one of the few tools to spur job creation and economic growth in developed countries.
Canadians understand this reality better than most; our bipartisan support for an initiative like CETA is rare in this era. As you embark on the uncharted path of Brexit, political and business leaders in the United Kingdom can look to CETA as a model for a modern, robust, comprehensive trade deal.
The ﬁrst lesson, though, is that there is no shortcut to such an agreement. Our trade discussions with the EU began in 2007, but negotiations did not begin for another two years. We did, however, use the intervening period productively. Our government conducted extensive consultations with subnational governments, businesses and citizens to ensure we established realistic parameters and expectations for our eventual negotiating mandate.
This early work may not be headline-grabbing for politicians, but it is crucial. Without well-established consultative frameworks and substantive trust-relationships with citizens and key industry advocates, political leaders will ﬁnd themselves isolated from the very interests they proclaim to represent at the negotiating table.
The next step - the ﬁve years of negotiations beginning in 2009 – were likewise more labourious than dramatic. With the silence periodically punctuated by the demands of protectionists and the claims of opponents, they were also not easy. But leaders must ignore these siren songs if they are conﬁdent in their strategy and the quality of their preparation. Comprehensive deals that cross all sectors of the economy are not simple matters. They must be negotiated in private with steely perseverance, excruciating attention to detail and steadfast patience.
It must be accepted that these things are at odds with the transactional demands of 24-7 news media. Tactical distractions, extraneous crises and negotiation fatigue are real dangers. They can only be mitigated with adherence to the longer-term strategy and an determination to dispense with diversions.
The role of business leaders in this process is critical. We worked closely with groups like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business and the Business Council of Canada to ensure that an eventual agreement with Europe would translate into better jobs and higher wages for Canadians. UK business leaders must now reach out to Prime Minister May to convey similar messages to the British people.
In this process, politicians are rightly reminded they are not business leaders; but business leaders should similarly be reminded that they are not politicians. Business can accurately point government to real gains and losses from international trade deals. But business must never forget that it is the broader interests of the population that government has in mind. Political leaders will rise and fall with the support of that broader electorate, not with more narrow business concerns.
Today, CETA is enjoying its moment in the sun. We have earned a hard-fought victory to secure economic growth and prosperity for our people. But the work is not done. Signiﬁcant efforts remain to complete ratiﬁcation and, most importantly, to realize the export opportunities. It is still important to resist the temptation to cry “mission accomplished.” Nevertheless, this is a signiﬁcant achievement and one that clearly illustrates the opportunities and risks facing the United Kingdom.
Canada, standing outside a broader political and economic union, has succeeded in negotiating free-trade agreements with 51 nations. This encompasses most of the major markets in the Americas, Europe and Asia (including the unratiﬁed Trans-Paciﬁc Partnership). We have deep economic integration with the United States, without surrendering our sovereignty or unique national character. This seems to me to be what the UK desires in its relationship to the EU. So it can be done. But it will take considerable time, come with signiﬁcant risk, and require careful political judgement.