John Baird’s priorities for 2013 will focus on trade. Security issues, however, may force themselves to a more prominent place on this government’s agenda. Here are Baird’s most pressing international files:
The Keystone XL pipeline:
U.S. approval of the pipeline, designed to carry Canadian crude oil to U.S. refineries, has been long delayed. U.S. President Barack Obama sent the proposal to the State Department for a revised assessment to avoid dealing with the issue prior to the American election in November. American Environmentalists fiercely oppose the plan, and Obama wanted their votes.
The results of that State Department assessment are expected this spring. Obama’s nomination of John Kerry, seen as an environmental advocate, for secretary of state has raised concerns among Keystone advocates that America might reject the project. Canada is seeking alternative markets for Canadian oil, but America remains its most lucrative customer and Baird will be working hard to close this deal.
A Canada-European Union free trade deal:
The Foreign Affairs website still lists concluding an agreement with the European Union as a priority for 2012 — underlining the slower-than-expected pace of ongoing negotiations. Reports say a deal is imminent, but we’ve been hearing that for a while.
A Canada-India free trade deal:
Canada’s negotiations with India began in 2010. Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh re-affirmed their desire to close the deal by the end of this year when Harper visited India last fall. A seventh round of talks will be held next month in New Delhi.
Just because a country doesn’t plan for a war doesn’t mean it won’t be involved in one. An unexpected advance by Islamist rebels in northern Mali toward the capital, Bamako, earlier this month prompted France to deploy troops at the request of Mali’s fragile, post-coup government. France and Mali’s poorly trained soldiers are now actively fighting Islamsits from al-Qaeda’s North Africa franchise, along with affiliated groups. Canada has committed one C-17 transport plane to ferry gear from France to Mali. Harper suggests Canada’s contribution may expand, but he wants “broad consensus” in Parliament. Mali will be debated during the first week the House returns.
Afghanistan has faded from the headlines with the end of Canada’s combat mission there, but it remains this country’s largest overseas military commitment, with some 925 Canadian soldiers and 45 civilian police deployed as part of a NATO mission to train Afghan soldiers and police. Foreign Affairs’ Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force will spend about $25 million a year there until 2014, when the military mission is due to end.
Barring any Canadian casualties — especially from insider “green on blue” attacks by Afghan security forces that killed 60 foreign troops in 2012 — this file may be a quiet one in 2013. Next year, when Canadians will be forced to pay attention to the sort of country we’re leaving behind, it will heat up.
Iran: Baird calls Iran the biggest threat to international peace and security in the world. In an interview with Maclean’s, he voiced his support for President Obama’s position that military force may be necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If Israel or the United States strikes Iran this year, world opinion will be polarized. Canada may find itself among the few nations supporting such an attack, and it will be up to Baird to explain why.
Baird calls Iran the biggest threat to international peace and security in the world. In an interview with Maclean’s, he voiced his support for President Obama’s position that military force may be necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If Israel or the United States strikes Iran this year, world opinion will be polarized. Canada may find itself among the few nations supporting such an attack, and it will be up to Baird to explain why.