Winham, Gilbert R.
September 2010
Canadian Foreign Policy (CFP);2010, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p125
Academic Journal
Multilateralism has long been a point of departure in Canadian foreign policy. This is especially the case in international economic affairs, for Canada has participated in, and promoted, international organizations intended to establish multilateral relations in trade, monetary affairs and international development. However, despite Canada's obvious involvement in multilateral trade organizations, as well as the country's rhetorical support for multilateral trade policies, it is nevertheless questionable whether Canada has pursued multilateral policies in its trade relations. In practice, multilateralism is not easily defined. It may mean no more than the attempt to coordinate policies of governments in groups larger than two countries. By this definition, Canada's postwar support for the establishment of the GATT, or its efforts in the Uruguay Round to develop the legal and institutional procedures of the WTO, would be considered multilateral by virtue of the purpose and the context in which they took place. Another definition might equate multilateralism with any participation in institutions or international organizations (Goff). A third definition might see multilateralism as the effort to coordinate the national policies of groups of states "on the basis of certain principles of ordering relations among those states" (Ruggie). The third definition places greater behavioural requirements on governments, as opposed to the more rhetorical requirements of the first two definitions. International trade organizations, like the GATT or WTO, regularly conduct multilateral trade negotiations during which it is possible to assess the support of individual countries for certain principles of ordering relations occurring in the negotiation process. One such principle is reciprocity. It is questionable how seriously Canada takes this principle when a prominent Canadian trade negotiator has explained his task as follows: "…our purpose in every agreement is to get all we can and give as little as possible." A second principle is tariffication, a constitutional principle of the GATT and a foundation of the agricultural agreement emanating from the Uruguay Round. Canada opposed this principle, fearing it would compromise its questionable policy of supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors. In neither of these important cases would it be possible to describe Canada as following a policy of multilateralism.


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