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Wallonia, like Canadian provinces and sectoral interests seeking accommodations

Wallonia, like Canadian provinces and sectoral interests seeking accommodations

Wallonia, like Canadian provinces and sectoral interests seeking accommodations

by The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher

TORONTO – It is a little to facile to blame Wallonia and Belgium for the collapse of the ratification itinerary of the CETA. The process was clear from the very beginning: local legislative bodies would have virtual – and as it turns out, effective – veto over any deal structured for the whole.

We should not have expected any less from the operations of a “federated state” like Europe. Or Canada, for that matter. If the deal is important to anyone, it would be to Canadians. The benefits of a virtually tariff-free exchange of goods between Canada and Europe would surely accrue to Canadian producers at least as much as to Europeans. Otherwise, what would be the point?

The Walloons are following a pattern of defending long-established local interests in the face of potentially larger interests for a wider collective. It is one with which Canadians are well familiar.

When the Mulroney administration negotiated the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the USA, he needed to acquire the “buy in” of the soft fruit industry in Southern Ontario. That cost a pretty penny in subsidies to the wine producers, among others, to encourage them to transition out of the business or become more innovative in the face of American competition. They did; some more successfully than others.
The real issue, though, was the abandonment of the traditionally Canadian [Conservative] National Policy that strove to define Canada commercially through preferential subsidies and policies that would favour the East-West industrial and transportation underpinnings of Canada. There was a price.

It did not take long for the FTA partnership to seize upon the structural advantages of a co-ordinated and expanded partnership. One that would oversee the Continental management of natural resources exploitation, human resources capacity and innovative sector. By 1992, the FTA was expanded to include Mexico in a North America Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Some Industry sectors had to be compensated. Others, “grandfathered” going forward. Others still – the Dairy producers in particular – fought for exclusion. Lumber and Wheat interests “fine tuned” arguments for entry or exclusion. Provincial, Territorial and Aboriginal groups fought to maintain their peculiar “rights” – some acquired, some Constitutional.

There was, of course, the famous CanCon (Canadian Component) requirement in manufacturing to protect local interests.

Sometimes, one wonders whether all of the considerations that went into Nation-Building (and codified into laws, jurisdictions and constitutional authorities) have been cast aside with the emergence of sectoral, continental and pan-(fill in the blank) trade agreements and their conflict resolution mechanisms.

For some, the firmness of the position by the Walloons in the face of greater European interests may seem a tad shy of being obdurate, greedy, or indicative of the weakness of the European Federation. For others, like the interests behind the Galati challenge to the CETA deal, it is a question of the little guy standing up for his Constitutional Rights.

We may have to take a few pages out of the FTA and NAFTA process to better appreciate our own next steps.

(Wednesday 26 October 2016)

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