Wenran Jiang is a senior fellow at the Institute of Asian Research, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia.
If you are looking for a 21st-century version of the 19th-century colonial-era unequal treaty between nations, look no further than the recently announced United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Under the U.S.-imposed deadline and relentless public humiliation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet caved in and signed away a vital part of Canadian sovereignty to the United States.
Yes, there is some normal give and take within the normal trade bargains: the dairy sector, the independent dispute-settlement mechanism, the tariffs on our steel and aluminum and the potential mother lode of U.S. tariffs on our auto sector.
But few have realized the killer clause that allows U.S. control over Canadian diplomacy in the rather explicit text buried in Article 32.10, Non-Market Country FTA.
Contrary to Mr. Trudeau’s vague assurance that the article has very little effect, Canada is no longer free to pursue a free-trade agreement (FTA) with China under USMCA. Ottawa now must notify other USMCA partners if it just intends to pursue a trade deal with a “non-market economy” (code name: China.) And Canada has no independence to classify China as a free-market economy, as Australia or New Zealand did when they negotiated FTAs with China. That sovereign right has now been given to Washington: If the United States determines that China is a non-market economy, it is a non-market economy. International standards such as those of the World Trade Organization do not apply. Canada’s position does not matter.
If Canada insists on negotiating a FTA with China, the United States will have the final say on whether it can proceed. Ottawa must supply Washington with all the details of the negotiation, and submit the potential agreement for review 30 days prior to signing. And if our southern neighbour does not like it, it can use the termination of USMCA as a threat with six-months notice. Given the stake of Canada’s reliance on the U.S. economy, our chance of completing a FTA with China under the U.S. objection is surely zero.
The specific article will severely compromise Canada’s national interests in dealing with China, our second-largest trading partner. Ottawa’s trade and economic diversification drive will be subject to Washington’s interference. Take the energy and agricultural sectors for example: Canada and the United States may have competing interests when it comes to access to the Chinese market. Assuming that a likely prolonged trade war between the United States and China continues, and China maintains tariffs on U.S. energy and agricultural imports, Canada may find it impossible for the U.S. government to agree to Ottawa concluding a trade deal with Beijing that includes non-tariff Canadian exports of energy and agricultural products to China, which clearly put the same U.S. exports to China in a disadvantaged position.
This is not, as some argued, a simple good-neighbourly agreement. It is not a specific provision to prevent other countries accessing the U.S. market through back doors from Canada and Mexico. This is an overall veto power given to the United States, literally forcing Beijing to negotiate with Washington if it intends to pursue an FTA with either Canada or Mexico.
By giving in on such a crucial sovereign right of Canada, Ottawa emboldens the Trump administration to potentially demand other trading partners such as the European Union and Japan to insert similar clauses in their trade deals, thus facilitating the U.S. global strategy of containing China as a strategic rival, which is openly stated by the U.S. government.
The bottom line: Canada should be able to decide what China is and what economic ties we want to pursue with China. The U.S. government should not have final say in what we can and can’t do with one of our most important foreign relations in the world.
The sad part is that Ottawa did not have to make such semi-colonial concessions. It can stand firm, telling Washington that the United States is as dependent on Canada as the other way around, that millions of U.S. jobs are at stake if it excludes Canada from the new treaty, and that the United States will not be able to sustain another trade war with its second-largest economic partner while already bleeding from its ongoing trade war with China.
Now, all members of Parliament, regardless of their party affiliations and regardless of their personal views on China and the United States, must vote with their conscience and protect Canadian sovereignty by rejecting Article 32.10 of USMCA.