For Canada and Australia, shared values are the greatest defence

This opinion article by Jennifer Westacott and Norman Steinberg was published in The Globe And Mail on 20 February 2017 and The Australian Financial Review on 21 February 2017.

In this turbulent era, it is becoming ever more important to stand up for the shared values that bind countries such as Australia and Canada together.

The signs of the times are all around us, from rapid technological change to geopolitical instability, the dilemmas posed by mass migration, sluggish global economic growth and rising dissatisfaction with institutions.

For our two liberal democracies – middle powers on the world stage, linked by a shared outlook and common heritage – the cumulative effects of these forces present undeniable challenges, but also new opportunities for our policy makers, businesses and communities. As leading figures from both countries convene for the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Sydney this week, we must face up to this question: How can we respond to these tremendous global forces of change in a way that will continue delivering prosperity for our citizens? Canada and Australia must be partners in finding answers. We already enjoy a warm friendship and deep people-to-people links through immigration, business, politics, tourism and civil society. It’s not hard to find an Australian in Banff, or a Canadian in Bondi.

Our economic links are also expansive with a strong trading relationship, worth $3.9 billion in 2015-16, and two-way investment valued around $80 billion.

Although they may not realize it, Australians are surrounded by the fruits of that relationship, whether it’s the Barangaroo development in Sydney funded by Canadian pension funds, or the trains in Brisbane purchased from Canadian infrastructure companies. Australian exports and investments also contribute greatly to Canada’s economy with Rio Tinto alone employing 15,000 people there.

However, beyond our social and economic links, our countries share core values and philosophies that have underpinned our prosperity: liberal democracy, respectful debate, free trade, free enterprise, open markets, the rule of law, good global citizenship, human rights and civil liberties.

For these principles, Australians and Canadians have fought side by side in times of trouble including both World Wars, the Korean War, the 1991 Gulf War and, most recently, in Afghanistan. In our view, these are the principles that will sustain prosperity and underpin peace across the world.

We must continue to show global leadership by standing up for these values while, at the same time, responding to the legitimate concerns of people who are understandably disappointed by disparities in wealth and economic opportunity. Amid resurgent populism around the world, Australia and Canada must now play an important role in pointing out the illusory benefits of a retreat to protectionism.

Taking a backward step on trade openness and global engagement will not deliver greater prosperity. Protectionism and isolationism simply will not work in a modern, technologically advanced, consumer-connected world.

It has never been more important that Australia and Canada stand together as stalwart defenders of global engagement, multilateral institutions and open markets. While doing so, we can explore the significant opportunities to support and learn from each other to develop better public policy, foreign relations and business practices.

Perhaps owing to the tyranny of distance, the Australia-Canada friendship has not always received the attention in each country that it should. That is something we are trying to change this week, bringing together 150 leaders from both nations to discuss global challenges and opportunities, and where our countries may be able to collaborate. There are so many natural synergies to build upon. Australia and Canada are both vast, sparsely populated federations that are members of the G20 and the Commonwealth – we’re both looking forward to a fierce but friendly contest at next year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. As co-chairs of this forum, we have been struck by the similarity in key issues facing both Australia and Canada: how do we boost economic growth to make sure all citizens share in our country’s prosperity? How should our countries navigate the tremendous forces of change? How do we encourage the comparative advantages that our countries have in agribusiness, in education, in energy and resources?

As we go about answering these questions this week, we must steadfastly reaffirm our common objective of inclusive, cohesive societies that protect the most vulnerable, respect the movement of people and capital, and acknowledge free enterprise as the engine of economic growth and higher living standards.

For countries such as ours, these values and characteristics will never be a great vulnerability and will eternally be our greatest defence.

Norman Steinberg, chairman of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada, and Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, are co-chairing the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Sydney this week.