This is adapted from a speech former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave at The FarmTech conference in Edmonton, 'A Bold Vision for Agriculture.'
There are lessons to be drawn from that history which would be helpful in meeting the challenges we face today in the early days of the Trump administration.
Americans are frustrated by the slow recovery of their economy and open-trade agreements have become an easy whipping boy for those looking to attach blame. Canada will have to be on high alert to preserve the access we have, emphasizing above all that our trade with the U.S., including for agriculture, is in healthy balance. There is as much at stake for them as for us.
Nor should we be the target of American concern. We need to do everything we can to ensure that we do not become a target, accidental or otherwise.
I am convinced that there are more opportunities for constructive partnerships with President Trump than for differences or concern.
In fact, some of the deprecating opinions being expressed about President Trump remind me of initial attitudes regarding President Reagan. Many Canadians questioned whether he was really fit for this high office and he became one of the most powerful and respected U.S. presidents in the past century.
Let history, not conceit nor sanctimony be your guide.
I made a conscious effort to establish a close and constructive relationship with President Reagan and with his successor, George Bush, Sr. I said at that time that I would give the Americans "the benefit of the doubt" from time to time and I did exactly that. The personal commitment helped us conclude vital agreements on trade, on the environment and on our shared security concerns on this continent – all of which produced mutual benefits.
The key is to find avenues of common ground and common purpose while managing differences – and in a relationship this complex there are bound to be differences – in a pragmatic, diplomatic fashion. Not simply to demonstrate a penchant to be different.
The litmus test for success in any negotiation between governments is that the result must be a demonstrable win for both sides. Negotiators seldom get everything that either side may have wanted, but they need to agree on enough that will enable both sides to gain significant advantage from the result – and at minimal cost. That is key to any successful negotiation.
The FTA and NAFTA more than met that objective. The proof can be found most prominently in the numbers. Trade between Canada and the U.S. exploded, more than tripling in the first 20 years alone – more than $1-million now every minute of every hour, every day. More than $2-billion in total each and every day of every month of the year. More than $800-billion in total. The largest bilateral trade exchange between any two countries in the history of the world, generating almost five million jobs in Canada alone. As you well know, even many of our fiercest critics at the time have become supporters.
With astute management, these agreements will continue to provide a solid, healthily balanced foundation for future trade and investment between us.
The Acid Rain accord not only helped preserve our shared environment, it also established a basic guideline for future agreements, namely that we would not ask our neighbour to do more than we were ready to do ourselves. Nor I would suggest can we risk pursuing policies or goals on the environment that sharply diverge from those of the United States and would, therefore, undermine our relative competitiveness.
All of these agreements were possible because, as leaders of our respective governments, Presidents Reagan and George Bush, Sr., and I were determined to succeed and to guide each negotiation every step of the way. Not to get a deal for the sake of getting a deal but to conclude agreements consistent with our basic objective – making trade relations, environmental and border management better, significantly better for both countries.
That is how Canada's national interest can best be served. It is not easy. Canadians are understandably wary of negotiating agreements of any kind but particularly with a neighbour ten times our size.
But I believe that the record shows that it can be done successfully.
Canada cannot afford to stand on the sidelines and ignore the opportunities that are emerging from fast-growing markets and from the wonders of buying and selling via the Internet. We need to take better advantage of these trends and our agricultural capabilities should be a genuine comparative advantage for Canada.
We also need to move forward expeditiously on new infrastructure that will enable us to ship our resources to promising markets beyond North America.
The fact that the Trump administration will approve the Keystone XL pipeline is a salutary 'better later than never' piece of good news for Canada. But we need more of the same positive decisions on infrastructure to serve access to global markets. If we are stymied by endless protests and court challenges we will not have the financial resources to support the social and educational needs of our own society. It is time we Canadians acknowledged that reality.
Whether we implement a bolder vision on trade or similarly bold policy action here at home it is ultimately a question of confident, persistent political leadership. That is the most precious asset of all. Consultations in the absence of leadership will never be sufficient. Leadership that not only anticipates the need for change but is brave enough to implement change.
We broke new ground more than a quarter-century ago by embarking on free-trade negotiations with the United States. We were determined to look beyond history and beyond the status quo to serve the national interest.
We were convinced that, by equipping ourselves to compete effectively in North America, we would be able to compete more effectively throughout the world.
It is time for Canada to reap that advantage. That will ensure a bright future for Canada and for your vital contribution to our economy.
History demonstrates convincingly that, when we get our act together with vision, confidence and leadership, beneficial results will follow.