Well before COVID-19 emerged, our news media was filled with stories of polarization, protectionism, restrictive immigration, trade wars, espionage, and distrust. The era of globalization was slowly unravelling politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically. And the growing chasm between the United States and China was leaving Canada feeling confused, exposed, played, and naïve.
Torn as a nation – were we to side with the US or with China?
Distrust in, and between, these two superpowers has now been exasperated by their respective involvement in, and responses to, the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationalist, propagandist, and protectionist discourse has rallied both their electorate and their politicians. The next 4-5 years will likely split a globalized economy into three separate theatres – an Asian (ASEAN) theatre, a North American theatre, and a European theatre – each more focused on building economic self-sufficiency than global trade.
This will present a real paradox for Canada, an exporting nation.
While the North American theatre will be obsessed with protectionism, buying local, import tariffs, boarder control, partisan politics, and regulatory hurdles, the ASEAN theatre has already returned to work (with testing and temperature checks), is operating at full capacity, growing its domestic demand, and celebrating their rapid triumph over a virus that brought the rest of the world to its knees.
China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia are booming, and their entrepreneurs are of the mindset that this is the ASEAN century, and this this their time for growth. With 70% of the world’s population and 80% of global growth within their reach, entrepreneurs in these countries are producing raw materials, rebuilding supply chains, expanding manufacturing capacity, and inventing new business models for retail and delivery … all of which create well-paying jobs and domestic consumption.
Canada will quickly have to make a choice as to which theatre it will prioritize. Unfortunately, playing in one may prevent it from participating in the other.
If we were feeling confused, exposed, played, and naïve before … I can only imagine the conversation going on in Ottawa today … or tomorrow … or sometime.
Regardless of the choice, one thing I know for certain … we are an exporting nation and we need to get our collective heads around that fundamental first.