Impacts on global (free) trade . . .
Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. in 2016 raised concerns in the international community that a wave of populist-driven trade isolationism might be looming. The Trump Administration soon put limits on its exports to China, citing “national interest” and “national security,” undercutting America’s status as champion of the world’s free trade regime. Tokyo seems to have borrowed a similar line from the U.S. playbook, imposing what appear to be politically-motivated restrictions on exports to South Korea. Tokyo’s move, which came days after the G20 meeting in Osaka, is especially jarring as Japan has been regarded as one of the remaining international champions of free trade, along with Canada. Analysts agree that the export restrictions will damage both the Japanese and South Korean economies. For Canada, this is concerning. Japan and South Korea are two of our key economic partners (fifth- and seventh-largest trading partners, respectively). Japan is part of the CPTPP agreement, and Canada’s only bilateral trade agreement in Asia is with South Korea.
Derailing Canadian momentum . . .
Canada is not a major player in Northeast Asian security. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, has indicated his interest in being more present in the region. The U.S. pivot to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ in response to the rise of China creates opportunities for Canada to do just that. In 2017, Trudeau was the first Canadian leader to attend the East Asia Summit, a security forum of 16 heads of state, and asked for Canada to become a member. Canada has been collaborating closely with the international community in its efforts to denuclearize North Korea. It also contributes to upholding UN sanctions against North Korea, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland hosted the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula in 2018. The deterioration of the relationship between Japan and South Korea poses challenges for these and other multilateral projects in which Canada is active.
A new role for Canada . . .
Tensions between Japan and South Korea are fundamentally of a political nature, and it is difficult for Canada to find the space to play a constructive role. The falling out between Tokyo and Seoul may also be indicative of a greater wave of isolationism and fragmentation in the international community, which will have more serious and long-term implications for Canada’s foreign policy agenda. For the moment, Canada should continue championing the principle of free trade and the importance of partnership among like-minded countries in multilateral fora.