September 15, 2018 1:10 pm

Peter Watts: Making good on international trade crucial for Canada — and Trudeau


This week presents some unique storylines to talk about in the world of international trade.

The House of Commons returns to work on Monday, and one of the first questions to be addressed concerns the future of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  Canadians now own this 65-year-old pipeline and the right to build a newer, more modern, and much bigger pipeline along the same general right of way.  The world awaits product, and a demonstration by the Canadian government that it will actually complete what it has said it will do.

READ MORE: Feds a few days, not months, away from announcing Trans Mountain plan: Sohi

China is one of those potential customers.  The Chinese investment in western Canada has exceeded $55 billion in the past decade.  What the Chinese have received in return is less than expected.

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Just to demonstrate that trade is a two-lane street, last week the state owned-oil company signed a memorandum with Standen Ltd. of Edmonton, and with a number of Alberta Indigenous nations to develop an $8.5 billion refinery in the province.  This week, Mary Ng, the minister of small business and export promotion for Canada, will attend a world economic forum in China and in Hong Kong.  It is an acknowledgement that there are opportunities for Canada to diversify its export markets, and to continue to attract investment to this country.

WATCH: Trudeau wants to see shovels in the ground ‘as quickly as possible’ on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Two guests on my Alberta Morning News program spoke to the international trading picture at the moment.  Portfolio manager, John Thaler, who runs a multi-billion-dollar investment firm in Dallas, says he believes a NAFTA trade deal will get done sooner rather than later.  He also says the United States is gearing up for a protracted trade battle with China that will last for awhile.

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Gordon Houlden, executive director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, took note of the MOU involving a proposed new refinery in this province.  He also noted Minister Ng’s participation in the world economic summit.

“I think there’s a real opportunity here for Canada,” he told me.  “China is Canada’s second largest single nation trading partner.  Two-way merchandise trade totaled more than $94.5 billion in 2017.”

“If the argument over NAFTA has shown us anything, it is that we should not be too reliant on any one country when it comes to trade.  It makes us vulnerable if the other partner decides to change the rules or alter the relationship according to its own wishes.”

READ MORE: Trans Mountain pipeline should go ahead even if consultation doesn’t end with consensus, Notley says

These next few months will be very interesting to watch.  As he faces a federal election a year from now, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have to decide his priorities.  Does his government want to do what it can to facilitate growth and diversity of export markets, which would, in turn, provide jobs for his beloved middle class?  Or does he want to wave his socialist flag as his foreign affairs minister did recently with Saudi Arabia, and stick his nose into areas that are of no interest to many Canadians?

I’m not sure he can have it both ways.  The middle class will be watching.


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