In the immediate hours leading up to the release of DFATD’s Global Markets Action Plan, those interested in such things were teased by an article on the Globe and Mail’s website outlining how this new foreign policy document was going to force Canada’s diplomats to change their clothes. Not only were diplomats to expect new directives on their wardrobe, but they were told that there was going to be a “culture shift”; marshalling the full force of Canada’s diplomatic core in the pursuit of economic gains was the new direction.
After reading the Global Markets Action Plan and the responses from the usual suspects, I am left with one question: what changed? Did I miss something? The document itself outlines a very broad framework for how the “tweeded-class” at DFATD is to pursue economic linkages with no less than eighty different countries. Yes, that is right; DFATD has decided that Canada is going to take its economic diplomacy and friend eighty different countries. Well, I guess that will be a real slap in the face to Togo, Palau, and Nepal who didn’t get a friend request for Canada’s new and improved economic diplomacy. The point being that for a very long time now, DFATD has been primarily focused on pursuing economic interests; it just has a slick new name now. Don’t believe me? Ask Iran or the United Nations how interested Canada has been in undertaking non-economic diplomacy over the past couple years.
What, to me, is more disappointing than the fact that ‘traditional’ diplomacy or development assistance was ignored was that there is little in the way of details. Since 2006, when the Conservatives assumed power, Canadian exports have grown by just over 3%. Not 3% per year…3% in total…or 0.54% per year. While Canada’s trade policy has been successful (?) in diversifying away from being reliant on the American market by decreasing the American market share of Canadian exports from 81.6% in 2006 to 74.5% in 2012, this has come as a result of exporting less to the U.S. The pie hasn’t grown; the Americans are just eating less. Canada now exports $20 billion less to the U.S. than it did in 2006. The document provides few specifics as to how diplomats are going to implement these ideas or what will actually change to generate new opportunities for the private sector to improve these numbers.
The point is this: there are horses for courses. This government has not been particularly good at expanding the pie, so why will this be different? It is highly unlikely that this latest incarnation of Canada’s foreign policy will change the trajectory of Canada’s international relations; Canada’s friends last month are still Canada’s friends today and no amount of sending out friend requests or changing our clothes is going to change that.
By Matt Gouett, PhD Candidate, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs