For over a century, the most reliable free traders in North America were farmers. Globalization today needs support from the little guy as well. If Canada’s so-called pivot to China is to be credible—outside of the energy, resource, and related services sectors—small businesses and the agricultural sector, for instance, better start enjoying more of the benefits.
Last year, seeds, fruits, and grains captured less than 6 percent of Canada’s exports to China. (Click on: www.asiapacific.ca/statistics/trade/bilateral-trade-asia-product/canadas-merchandise-trade-china.)
Mark MacKinnon of the Globe and Mail recently reported on the first-ever Canada-China Investors Forum in Beijing. The following exchange with Ding Yifan, a policy advisor to the Chinese Cabinet, deserves wider discussion:
“Mr. Ding quickly flipped from free-trader to protectionist when Mark Kruger, the head of the economic section of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, suggested during the forum that high-quality Canadian agricultural products might be a perfect fit for the Chinese market. China's emerging middle class, Mr. Kruger said, is seeking trustworthy options following a series of shocking food safety scandals involving some of the country's best-known food producers. 'There's huge opportunities for Canadians to serve this market for high-quality, and also safe, agricultural goods.'
“But, Mr. Ding quickly made clear that Canadian farmers shouldn't plan on exporting large amounts of food to China because the Communist Party leadership had a policy of ensuring the country could always feed itself without relying on trade. 'China considers agriculture as a matter of national security,' he said.”
So there you have it: a policy dispute between what could soon be the biggest economy in the world and one of its smaller suppliers.
The Harper government claims that Canada can become an energy “superpower” by shifting away from the US and aggressively deepening relations with China. (In furtherance of that goal, Canadians are being asked to look the other way as Chinese government-controlled companies invest massively in Canada’s strategic energy resources.)
Is there any substance to this new Canadian aspiration? Presumably, being a “superpower” must mean more than merely having the means—the pipelines, harbors, and appropriate permits—to fill another superpower’s order book.
For starters, can Harper change China’s agriculture policy?
Can the Canadian government—as an emerging energy superpower—ever do as well with China as it can with the United States?