by Mauricio Zuluaga
2020 was an atypical year, no doubts. But it was a time full of lessons learned. The pandemic forced businesses around the globe to switch, not just the way they used to interact with their customers, but their nature. Wineries and distilleries making hand sanitizers rather than wine or whisky, convention centres serving as hospitals, and car manufactures producing medical ventilators, are just some examples of the adaptation made by some industries due to COVID19.
In this same way everyone had to adapt their own habits to fit in with the new reality. The name of platforms became verbs, and ‘zooming’ was born as a word to define the action of working from home, attending school, or join a party. To resume, 2020 was a year to redirect our lives and business. Now, it is time to do the same as a country, if we want to play a key role in the ‘new normal’ world.
The room for a positive change has been created. After four years of often-tense relations with Donald Trump, the Joe Biden election as the new president of the United States would bring cordiality to the bilateral relationship between Canada and the U.S. However, it doesn’t mean that protectionism will leave the global office. On the contrary, the trade agenda may create more challenges than the ones faced during the last four years.
The “Buy American” mentality took root in the people, and protectionism, as happened in the United Kingdom, became a powerful political weapon. In the campaign, Biden openly admitted to being in favor of prohibiting Canadian companies from bidding on public infrastructure contracts at the state and municipal levels. 'No government contracts for companies that don't manufacture in the U.S.’, Biden vowed to his electors.
This politic won’t be new to Canadians. In 2008, with Biden serving as Vice-president, Obama’s administration went through a similar pathway. On this occasion, it took Canada a year to negotiate some exemption. In this way, the promise made by the 46th president of the U.S is reason enough to start looking for diversifying the international trade portfolio with a more ambitus plan.
Today, over 75% of sales made by Canadian companies abroad have the U.S as their final destination, and the bilateral trade is nearly USD$2 billion a day. Bearing in mind the commercial agenda, and the fact that the two countries share the longest international border (8,892 km), and 90% of Canadians live within 160 kilometers of one of the 120 land ports of entry, it is easy to understand why the U.S is the natural market for Canadians entrepreneurs. But beyond this reality, there is an urgent need for expanding the borders to international trade.
As happened to businesses and people during the pandemic, Canada needs to switch its international trade vision, and being more active at opening new markets. A popular phrase says: “The world needs more Canada”. But first, Canada needs to look beyond the U.S.
Mauricio Zuluaga is a Colombian financial journalist.