“The only way a country prospers is through productivity enhancements,” former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told the audience at the JOC Canada Trade Conference in Toronto during his keynote address.
A wide-ranging discussion by Canada’s 18th Prime Minister saw him address Canada’s deteriorating relationship with the United States and his pride in having negotiated the first North American Free Trade Agreement with his counterpart at the time U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
“I call it NAFTA 2.0, because I negotiated NAFTA 1.0,” Mulroney quipped.
He also put forward the idea that the deal should be expanded to include other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
“Canada and Mexico should set this aside and say, ‘Look this has worked so well, that we want to devise something called the free trade area of the Americas,” which would include 34 countries from Central and South America and produce $26 billion of goods annually.
He reasoned that this would be a better path forward than the current route chosen by current U.S. President Donald Trump, who is using the threat of tariffs to force Mexico to staunch illegal immigration into America.
“Why are they coming across the border?” Mulroney asked. “They’re looking for economic opportunity.
“This issue is the mutual responsibility of our counties and we need genuine leadership. We have to think not only about our issues, but others as well.”
Leadership is key to navigating Canada’s place in the world, especially as the U.S. and China appear to be on a collision course.
“That’s our way out of the collision,” Mulroney mused, adding: “Leadership is looking around the corner of history, 10, 20 years out.”
It’s also about relationships with your fellow leaders, which is not as simple as it was during Mulroney’s time in office, when he says Reagan never failed to consult him before making a decision that impacted their neighbours to the north.
“Access is worth its weight in gold and it is important for Canada.”
Mulroney also addressed the current Federal government’s review of port authorities, a subject he has intimate knowledge of, having started his legal career as a lawyer for the Canadian Shipping Federation in the 1960s.
“Generally speaking I would be in favor of privatization of Canadian ports,” he said after recounting his role in privatizing companies such as Air Canada and Petro Canada during his term from 1984 to 1993.