One of Canada’s most famous politicians offered a sharp critique US President Donald Trump’s trade policies on Tuesday morning, labelling him as a threat to free trade.
“We have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Why? Because we trade,” Jean Charest, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and former Premier of Quebec, told an audience at Dubai’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Charest was speaking to a group of potential investors in Canada, selling an image of the nation as an open, welcoming, and business-friendly environment.
Canada sends close to 75 per cent of its exports to the US, which Charest described as both a blessing and a curse.
Because such a substantial portion of its exports go to one trade partner, he argued that it had “made Canadians a bit complacent. A bit lazy.”
So in terms of trade, Charest added, things were “great when things were going fine for our American neighbour, but when you have a neighbour with a different view on trade, like Mr. Trump, then you’re in trouble.”
Joking about Trump, Charest said “he’s a little unpredictable. I don’t know if you’ve heard about him. Has he tweeted yet?,” to laughs from the audience.
But the former politician, who helped Canada negotiate its comprehensive trade deal with the European Union that was finalised last year, quickly got serious.
“At this juncture in our history, Canadians are having to rethink our place in the world, and it’s in part being pushed by Mr. Trump,” Charest said. “So be it. But he’s also going to force a rethink of a number of things,” he added.
The official went on to highlight some key metrics that he argued pointed to the benefits gained through free trade: A reduction of extreme poverty, an eradication of diseases, and the improvement of the lives of hundreds of millions of people, by providing access to energy, electricity and water, Charest said.
The creation of the global middle class is the most important thing that has happened in the creation of capitalism, he added, quoting consultancy McKinsey.
And hinting at the shifting dynamics brought about by Trump’s isolationist, ‘America First’ approach to trade, the politician called on supporters of free trade to remind its detractors of the benefits he had just listed.
In a move designed to appeal to the many different races in the room, Charest promoted Canada’s multicultural society, saying “we’re very welcoming of immigration, and we’re a promoter of multilateralism.”
Not missing a chance to rebuke the US, he added: “Our neighbour has reverted to isolationism.”
Turning his attention to the Middle East, Charest said that as a supporter of open and free trade policies, Canada was looking for growth markets to strike deals with.
Noting that Canada had primarily signed on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership to gain access to Japan, and would “probably … enter in to a trade agreement with China soon,” Charest said: “Growth will happen in that part of the world. The issue isn’t where we are now, it’s where trade will be in the future.”
He added: “That’s why we’re here in the UAE. We want to be part of this growth.”
The former politician concluded his speech by saying that, despite all of Canada’s strategic thinking about trade and partnerships, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” borrowing a quote from heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.