All politics is local, if you choose to live in a cave

It is one of the most cynical political statements of all time. Yet it captures the essence of human – state – behaviour: I will do what is good for me. The challenge for successful political leadership is to widen the tent and the definition of “me” and to put in place a structure and supporting mechanism that encourages “buy in”, because the benefits far outweigh the alternatives. 

It is a political philosophy underpinning co-operative networks like the G-7: facilitation of economic exchanges promotes commonality of political interests. At its simplest, that is the definition of a working model for any Confederation – like the Canadan one – or a European Union. Italy and Canada bring perspectives to those discussions unmatched by the experience of others.

No surprise, then, that Italy and Canada, via their Prime Ministers, would seek to find those overlapping interests. Thanks to the practice that compels the government hosting the annual G-7 meeting of the participating States – this year, Italy – to visit counterparts for in-person exploratory discussions regarding potential agenda items, Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, will be here this weekend for a whirlwind meeting with PM Justin Trudeau.

Various sources citing data originating from both countries and supported by international organizations measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Economic Complexity (EC) place Italy and Canada at 8th and 9th place, respectively, in the world as measured by economic power.

Canada’s wealth generators are the plentiful natural resources, energy, the agri-food sector, the automobile and pharmaceutical sectors. Its economy is “Continental” in that approximately 85% of its trade is dependant on exchange with the American States. Marketing Boards that regulate the agrifood business function more as “protective, anti-competition (from foreign entities)” than as vendors of a made-in-Canada agency.

Italy’s export market is, by comparison, much more global. For one, it enjoys the benefits of reciprocal trade agreements on goods, services, “labour” mobility, innovative technology, “culture” and finished goods with the other 27 member nations of the European Union.

The Italian market is a competitive environment where quality is of utmost importance. Its producers reflect an overt and deliberate policy to sell a Made-in-Italy brand, with a Regulatory Body to ensure authenticity and that attests to levels of quality.

Not surprisingly, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, World-wide, there are only a handful of countries where Italian exporters generate sales that amount to less than that of their Canadian counterparts. We have much to learn. We signed a Canada Europe Comprehensive Trade Agreement (CETA) in 2017, but have yet to fully implement it, in part because European Agri producers still object to Canadian resistance to open our borders to their products.

According to StatsCan, last year, monthly, the average value of Italian exports to Canada (just under $1.0 billion) outstripped Italian imports from Canada (c. $300 million) by three to one.

Meloni and Trudeau both have an interest in growing the size/quantity of that exchange. Meloni swims in a political environment that is a veritable shark’s tank. Trudeau has an angry grizzly bear as a political neighbour.

As pressing and as “local” as their politics may be, their approach to this meeting may require that they stay focused on the big picture, and provide direction to their institutions to do the same.