Our new government has committed Canada to active and sustained reengagement with the hemisphere to advance security, prosperity, and democracy. I visited the region this summer. The contrasts were stark, and they are worrisome. While many nations are pursuing market reform and democratic development, others are falling back to economic nationalism and protectionism, to political populism and authoritarianism. Democracy, economic progress and social equality are still very much a work in progress in the region. (..)
On my hemispheric tour, I also went to Colombia, where our government is undertaking free trade negotiations. This is in Canada's own strategic trade interests, but it will also assist that country to continue on its path of overcoming a long, dark history of terror and violence, and moving its people to a future of economic and democratic development. In my view, Colombia needs its democratic friends to lean forward and give them a chance at partnership and trade with North America.
I am very concerned that some in the United States seem unwilling to do that. What message does that send to those who want to share in freedom and prosperity?
There is a lot of worry in this country about the ideology of populism, nationalism and protectionism in the Americas and the governments that promote it, but frankly, my friends, there is nowhere in the hemisphere that those forces can do more real damage than those forces in the United States itself. And if the U.S. turns its back on its friends in Colombia, this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve.
I say this because I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to defend our shared interests and values at home as well as abroad, and more open trade in the hemisphere is consistent with our values and in all of our interests. Let me take NAFTA. Now, I know NAFTA has become somewhat of a whipping boy to some the United States just as it is to some in Mexico and even to some in Canada, but the fact is that NAFTA has been unequivocally good for all of our countries. In spite of the naysayers and the doomsayers, I could recite a litany of economic statistics to demonstrate its success, which is why virtually nobody, not even the critics, actually do suggest we whip it up.
But I would say, more importantly, look south of your own border. Today Mexico's economy is not only growing, but it now has genuine democratic elections and peaceful transfers of political power, and it is engaging with the United States and Canada on security matters. All of these things were unthinkable in the era before NAFTA was signed. I could farther south to Chile, a country with which Canada signed a free trade agreement exactly 10 years ago. Today Chile is so stable and prosperous that after years of turmoil, violence and dictatorship, it is now a member of the OECD.
Stephen Harper is prime minister of Canada. Reprinted with permission from an article in the Latin Business Chronicle; and text drawn from PM Harper’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.