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Canada must be champion of open trade: C.D. Howe Institute Crisis Working Group on Business Continuity and Trade


April 9, 2020
by The C.D. Howe Institute

April 9, 2020 – Canada must champion open international trade and remain an ‘honest partner’ in the face of a worrying trend among G7 nations towards export restrictions on critical goods, says the C.D. Howe Institute’s Crisis Working Group on Business Continuity and Trade.

The group of economists and industry experts, co-chaired by Dwight Duncan, Senior Strategic Advisor at McMillan LLP and former Ontario Minister of Finance, and Jeanette Patell, Vice-President of Government Affairs and Policy for GE Canada, held its third meeting on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. They emphasized that open international trade is essential to Canada – both in the immediate crisis and for the long-term.  The working group observed a worrisome tide of export restrictions on critical goods internationally – most immediately reflected in the US president’s threat to prohibit surgical mask exports to Canada.

In this volatile international context, Canada must act on issues within control. Specifically, Canada must invest in:

  • Robust international relationships to draw upon in times of need;
  • Strategic stockpiles of critical goods (e.g., personal protective equipment); and
  • Long-run capabilities (e.g., skills and innovation) to support resiliency and rebound from this crisis.

In addition, Canada should take immediate measures to:

  • Temporarily reduce import tariffs on critical supplies, including agricultural products;
  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 disruptions in essential sectors (e.g., food processing plants); and
  • Aggressively address interprovincial trade barriers.

Canadians should also brace themselves for a rise in the cost of food – possibly by as much as 10 or 15 percent –with price impacts from the depreciation of the Canadian dollar, slowed international shipments, possible export restrictions, and reduced mobility for foreign agricultural workers. Though the group noted supply chains remain robust and Canadians should continue to have enough food to eat, there may be less variety and higher costs – particularly for fresh and imported products.


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