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Canada and the World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization that regulates global trade. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. Canada is one of its 164 members. The country plays a central role in the WTO and was also a key member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that preceded it. In addition to helping craft the WTO’s dispute resolution systems, Canada is among those countries most directly involved in its trade dispute cases.

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General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was an international trade agreement. It was signed by 23 nations, including Canada, in 1947 and came into effect on 1 January 1948. It was refined over eight rounds of negotiations, which led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It replaced the GATT on 1 January 1995. The GATT was focused on trade in goods. It aimed to liberalize trade by reducing tariffs and removing quotas among member countries. Each member of the GATT was expected to open its markets equally to other member nations, removing trade discrimination. The agreements negotiated through GATT reduced average tariffs on industrial goods from 40 per cent (1947) to less than five per cent (1993). It was an early step towards economic globalization.

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Canada and NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was an economic free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Designed to eliminate all trade and investment barriers between the three countries, the free trade agreement came into force on 1 January 1994. In addition to being one of the most ambitious trade agreements in history, NAFTA also created the world’s largest free trade area. It brought together two wealthy, developed countries (Canada and the United States) with a less developed state (Mexico). The agreement built on the earlier Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA), which came into effect on 1 January 1989. After NAFTA was signed, trade and investment relations between the three countries expanded rapidly, but political co-operation remained weak. NAFTA continued to be controversial, particularly in the United States. In 2017, US president Donald Trump threatened to renegotiate or cancel the deal. More than a year of negotiations produced a revised version of NAFTA called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). CUSMA came into effect on 1 July 2020.

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Canadian Foreign Relations

Throughout its history, Canada has taken a series of steps to develop from a British colony into an independent nation. Both the First and Second World War were turning points; Canada’s military sacrifices gave it the strength and confidence to demand its own voice on the world stage. In the postwar era, Canada maintained its role in both Western and global alliances. (See NATO; NORAD; GATT.) However, economics have shaped Canadian diplomacy to a remarkable extent. Because of the United States’ singular importance to Canadian security and trade, relations with the US have dominated Canada’s foreign policy since Confederation.

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Reciprocity

Reciprocity was a free trade agreement between the United States and Canada. It mutually reduced import duties and protective tariffs on certain goods exchanged between the two countries. It was in effect from 1854 to 1866 and was controversial at times on both sides of the border. It was replaced in 1878 by the Conservative Party’s protectionist National Policy. It involved levying tariffs on imported goods to shield Canadian manufacturers from American competition. A narrower reciprocity agreement was introduced in 1935 and expanded in 1938. However, it was suspended in 1948 after both countries signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

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Halibut Treaty

The Halibut Treaty of 1923 (formally the Convention for the Preservation of Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean) was an agreement between Canada and the United States on fishing rights in the Pacific Ocean. It was the first environmental treaty aimed at conserving an ocean fish stock. It was also the first treaty independently negotiated and signed by the Canadian government; one of several landmark events that transitioned Canada into an autonomous sovereign state. It also indicated a shift in Canada’s economic focus from Britain to the US during the 1920s, when the US passed Britain as Canada’s largest trading partner. The treaty created the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which continues in its role today.

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Peasant Farm Policy

From 1889 to 1897, the Canadian government’s Peasant Farm Policy set limits on Indigenous agriculture on the Prairies. The policy included rules about the types of tools First Nations farmers could use on reserve lands. It also restricted how much they grew and what they could sell. The Peasant Farm Policy was built on the belief that Indigenous farmers had to gradually evolve into modern farmers. It also reduced these farmers’ ability to compete with settlers on the open market. The policy ultimately impeded the growth and development of First Nations farms. As a result, First Nations never realized their agricultural potential.