I think we need to pay an awful lot of attention to some of the regional trade frameworks that are emerging, like the Canada-EU potential trade agreement. That should have a significant investment dimension. We should be exploring bilateral relationships to try to establish a rules framework for investments with countries like China. The old world of the WTO and the multilateral framework that we’ve relied on in the past has really ground to a halt, so we’ve got to look for other kinds of frameworks to dig deeper into some of the issues around foreign investment. And the rules you might want to apply to China or India, compared with the United States or Japan, are probably very different. We want symmetry with, say, China on mining and energy, but it’s a difficult issue, because Canada is not truly open in a number of areas – we have restrictions on foreign ownership, whether it’s airlines or telecoms or cultural industries. So I think it’s really important that we recognize how messy it is and we need to try to gradually create a rules framework that enables us to have more open investment rules.
And what about public comfort levels with some of these deals?
The most important thing is to be clear about what Canadian law and Canadian regulations and the Canadian approach is to foreign investment and the development of the Canadian economy. I think the public doesn’t really understand, for example, that when a foreign company buys a Canadian natural resources company, they’re not buying the resources, they’re buying the right to extract the resources. We need to be better at communicating to Canadians the hard, positive reality of what our laws are designed to do and that no foreign investment is going to be made that goes beyond Canadian laws and frameworks.
There’s a lot of confusion out there.
There’s just a huge amount of confusion. It’s so easy, in this world of instant social media, to cast something in symbolic terms, but not factual terms. It is messy to create a compelling narrative to these kinds of issues And that’s part of the adjustment governments are going through in terms of figuring out how to be more effective in the global economy. I don’t think, frankly, that the role of government is going to get smaller. I think it’s going to get more strategic and more significant as they struggle to figure out how to transform and reinvent how they do business.
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