International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is bullish about Canada’s future despite the growing threat of protectionism in the United States and the world.

Ms. Freeland portrayed Canada on Thursday as a global bulwark against populism and protectionism. While other countries build walls, Canada is opening its doors to trade and immigration, she said.

“The complexity of the international situation presents enormous possibilities for Canada,” she told the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. “I believe we are the best-placed country in the world to emerge from this complexity.”

She noted that Canada concluded a trade pact with the European Union the same year as the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. Meanwhile, economic worries among the middle class around the world have led to a search for “easy targets,” she said, such as immigrants and trade deals.

Canada is defying the trend, she said.

“I am so proud of Canada right now,” she said. “Out of all industrialized countries, Canada is the only one to go up against this tendency. Canada is defending an open society and saying: ‘We are open to immigration … we are open to trade.’”

The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is set to go into force provisionally early this year, though it still requires ratification by the European Parliament before coming into force.

“We are seeking to conclude commercial deals at a time when it’s very difficult to do so,” Ms. Freeland said.

Canada’s willingness to buck the worldwide anti-trade trend positions it well for the new year, she said. “You can come to Canada and be assured that we understand and believe in being open to the global economy,” she told reporters after her speech.

“And yes, I do think that represents very significant and distinctive opportunities for our country in 2017.”

Despite the protectionist rhetoric coming out of the United States, Ms. Freeland said Canada’s close trading ties with the country make the two economies impossible to separate.

President-elect Trump has threatened to tear up and rewrite the 1994 North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA) unless he can get a better deal for U.S. workers. Some experts say Canada could be at risk if its largest trading partner seeks concessions in areas such as the auto industry. Canada also faces uncertainty over an agreement on softwood lumber with the United States.

“I think it would be very important for us as a government to explain the nature of the economic relationship between Canada and the United States to the new American government,” Ms. Freeland said. “I think it’s a very special relationship, and very different from the United States’ other international economic relationships.”

MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jan. 05, 2017 3:55PM EST
Last updated Thursday, Jan. 05, 2017 7:38PM EST