Time to celebrate 150 years of Canada. This country has indeed come a long way. But we're at a crossroads now, facing several problems that we need to solve in order to safeguard the future of the world's second largest country.
Obviously, the biggest challenge Canada has to address is our neighbour to the south. With Donald Trump, our American friends have elected an unpredictable president, and one of his prime targets is the North-American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and thus Canada.
At the same time, our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is eager to strike a free-trade deal with China. But most Canadians aren't so sure that this is the way to go. Any deal reached with China would be a one-sided agreement, with all the benefits accruing to China and virtually none to Canada. After all, China has left no doubt as to the nature of such a free-trade agreement: China demands full access to Canada, whereas Canada's options in China would be severely restricted, and Canada would be forbidden to discuss Chinese human rights.
Let's be clear: Americans have always been rather protectionist and jingoistic. Canada always ends up with the short end of the stick, regardless of whether it's Democrats or Republicans who are in power. And an agreement with China would benefit the Middle Kingdom at the expense of everything we hold dear about Canada.
As a country that is overwhelmingly European in its origins and traditions, and whose very lifeblood is trade, Canada should therefore look for new avenues. Having negotiated and signed a free-trade deal (CETA) with the European Union, what's stopping us from taking this project a step further?
Canada would suddenly become very interesting for Americans, as it would represent their entry point to the gigantic European market.
Norway and Switzerland have been doing it successfully, and Britain, too, may join them if the outcome of current Brexit negotiations is a "soft Brexit": being a member of the European Single Market, which entails recognizing the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, but without becoming a full member of the European Union.
If Canada were to join the Single Market, we would instantly become part of a massive market with a population greater than that of the United States. There would be no need for Canada to adopt the euro currency, but Canadians could trade with as well as live and work freely in any member-state of the Single Market -- and vice versa, of course.
Not only would it (that is, the free movement of people) solve our demographic problems (an increasingly ageing population and future sustainable pension funding), but at a stroke, we'd find ourselves on an equal footing with the U.S. What is more, Canada would suddenly become very interesting for Americans, as it would represent their entry point to the gigantic European market. In short, we'd stop being an appendix.
Most of the groundwork has already been laid in the course of the CETA negotiations, and with the EU smarting from the loss of Britain and thus in dire need of renewed validation, Europeans may welcome Canada to the Single Market with open arms.
At the very least, this is an option worth thinking about.
Happy 150th, Canada!
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