OTTAWA – Canada’s new international trade minister is taking a pass on a meeting of his G20 counterparts in Argentina on Friday.
Jim Carr was recently shuffled into the portfolio with the main purpose of diversifying Canada’s economic relations with countries other than the United States, its largest trading partner.
The G20 includes China, India and Brazil — countries that Canada is keen to expand economic ties with.
Carr’s spokesman says the minister will attend an event in his home province of Manitoba on Friday, and that Canada will be represented at the G20 meeting by Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.
Carr will be in Winnipeg to announce the start of repairs of the railway line that runs to Churchill, Man. Sections of track were washed out during a May 2017 flood, wiping out the only land link to the town on Hudson Bay.
Carr’s absence from Friday’s G20 gathering does not diminish Canada’s commitment to the group or the international trading system, said spokesman Joe Pickerill.
“We absolutely believe in the rules-based system, the international trading order on which we’ve depended for our prosperity for decades,” said Pickerill.
He pointed to the fact Carr will host a small group trade ministers, many of whom are G20 members, next month in Ottawa to discuss much needed reforms to the World Trade Organization.
The agenda is still being crafted, but government officials said ministers from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and the European Union have been invited.
Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, will also be absent from the gathering of G20 trade ministers on Friday.
That has fuelled speculation that Lighthizer might be holding his schedule open for a return visit to Washington by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, his political counterpart in the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canadian and American negotiators continued their talks Thursday after Freeland’s latest visit to Washington on Tuesday.
Freeland briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the state of the NAFTA talks at the Liberal caucus retreat in Saskatoon on Wednesday.
Afterwards, she said lead negotiator Steve Verheul and David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, would return to Washington to resume negotiations.
The G20 leaders’ summit is set for later this fall in Buenos Aires.
A leading international affairs analyst said it is not necessarily a bad thing that Carr and Lighthizer decided to skip Friday’s G20 ministerial meeting.
The G20’s relevance and importance has been fading over time since its creation a decade ago to deal with the Great Recession of 2008-09, said Fen Hampson, a global policy expert with the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.
“It underscores the diminishing relevance of the G20 as an institution,” he said.
Trudeau said Thursday the government planned to pass legislation this fall allowing Canada to join the re-booted Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes 10 other Pacific Rim countries.
U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the original TPP in January 2017.