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Blame Canada

Parties Long Estranged: Canada and Australia in the Twentieth Century
by Margaret MacMillan (ed)
This book grew out of the 1998 conference of the Australian Studies Association of North America and consists of a series of essays on aspects of Australia-Canada relations. Chapters by different authors cover military, political, diplomatic and trade relationships. The two countries share a common language and culture and a similar history, both once being members of the now defunct British Empire, making them like siblings. However, all the chapters tell much the same story, of two countries growing apart.

Initially, the two strove to attain independence, first within and then from the British Empire. From there, two factors shaped the divergent paths of the two countries. The first was their location in the world, with Canada next door to the gigantic, friendly and culturally similar United States while Australia faced a less secure future adjacent to South East Asia. Canada therefore strove to stand apart from Britain and the United States, its contacts with the one being primarily to balance those with the other, while Australia worked at establishing secure ties with them, and with its neighbours, binding itself into a network of alliances. The second factor was Canada's perpetual lack of internal unity, which limits its ability to act. As a result, Australia made many overtures to Canada on many issues over the years, almost all of which were rebuffed because associating with Australia would tie Canada closer to the US and Britain, contrary to its general foreign policy.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter was about the Cairns group, a coalition of agriculture exporting countries lobbying for free trade in agriculture in the 1990s. Most of the nations involved in the group, which was led by Australia, were from South East Asia or South America. Canada was included partly because it was a major exporter, but also because it was a member of the G7, and could represent the Cairns group in that forum. The problem was that while Canada was a major exporter of meat and grain, particularly wheat, and interested in free trade in those sectors, it ran protectionism for its fruit, poultry and dairy industries. Moreover, these different industries were all centred in different regions of Canada, so getting behind free trade threatened Canada's internal unity. It was therefore not in Canada's interest to push free trade in agriculture, and Canada refused to represent the Cairns Group at the G7. So the United States, the European Union, Japan and Australia negotiated, excluding Canada. This demolished Canada's self image as an arbiter between Europe and the United States.

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