Omar Allam is a former diplomat and CEO and founder of Allam Advisory Group, a Canadian-based global business, strategy and commercial diplomacy consulting firm.
The Liberal government has been pressing forward with an aggressive offensive strategy to advance the Canada-European Union trade agreement (CETA) with International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland carrying the ball down the field.
There are many decisions in the coming days and weeks ahead that will have major implications for the future of both Britain and the European Union – including the future of CETA.
The picture of today's political, economic and social landscape is a sobering reality check that there will be short– and medium-term implications to CETA.
Ms. Freeland optimistically told Bloomberg last week that CETA ratification is on a much faster track: "We're anticipating that CETA will be signed in the fall and will be ratified early next year," she said. "There has been absolutely no interest – none at all – from any of our European counterparts in reopening CETA in any way."
But with news from Brussels that the deal will need to be approved by each of the EU's 28 member states, it looks like the goalposts are moving away from Team Canada, and our chances of winning look grim.
Since EU member states are trying to sort out their own domestic and regional sovereignty issues (with trade at the top of the agenda), Canada and other countries are scrambling to figure out a way to prepare for the marathon ahead. But they're doing it without a map or rule book in hand.
The Canada deal is seen as a test run for how the EU will deal with Brexit and other fallout from the British referendum that sent shock waves through global financial markets. Then, add in Islamic State-led terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Turkey within a week, plus the Syrian refugee crisis, which is an ongoing and growing concern. The real fear is that all of the hard work by Canada and the EU may fall on deaf ears because of an expected divorce settlement with Britain that hasn't even begun.
So what now? What will this mean for Canada, and the Canadian companies that have been waiting and preparing for CETA to be ratified? Mixed messages are rarely good news, especially for the risk-averse.
What we do know is that the private sector needs to rally behind Ottawa to ensure that business voices are heard. Our companies (especially our small– and mid-market firms) stand to benefit from CETA, which would open significant export and investment opportunities for Canadian companies to do business in and with Europe in a wide range of sectors. It would also guarantee that Canadian service suppliers secure preferential market access, and it will make it easier for Canadians to invest in the EU.
Whichever side you're on, the EU has made it clear that CETA will not be fast-tracked, and you will need to base your British and European strategy on the fact that things will never be the same.
Every company with interests in these markets will need to assess the impacts of this CETA uncertainty on their commercial operations and international strategy. The federal government should convene a special briefing with Canadian CEOs to maintain open lines of communication with the business community and to provide an update on CETA.
On the flip side, the private sector should be open to working closely with the government to advance our international trade agenda so we can reduce Canada's trade deficit and find exporters and investors. The private sector simply must be a knowledge partner in the development of a new Canadian international trade and export strategy.