15 May 2017

Global Series No. 11: Trump, Trade and Canada Panel at the University of Ottawa

On May 15 and 16, the University of Ottawa hosted a two-day event on “Trump, Trade and Canada” in the framework of the WTI Global Series on Trade Regulation sponsored by the World Trade Institute and the Hyman Soloway Chair in Business and Trade Law of the University of Ottawa.

The event kicked off on Monday, May 15, with a high-level public panel discussion on the current state of international trade affairs 100 Days into the Trump Presidency. Professor Debra Steger, Hyman Soloway Chair in Business and Trade Law, moderated the discussion with four distinguished speakers: (1) Senator Yuen Pau Woo of the Senate of Canada and expert on relations between Canada and East Asia; (2) John Weekes from Bennett Jones LLP and former Canadian Chief Negotiator of NAFTA; (3) Jennifer Hillman from Georgetown University Law Center and a former Chair of the WTO Appellate Body as well as (4) Manfred Elsig, Professor at the World Trade Institute of the University of Bern.


The panel discussion focused on challenges for international trade regulation under the Trump Presidency. The speakers highlighted protectionist tendencies in the U.S. administration’s trade policy and identified the challenges arising from it for Canada, the World Trade Organization and the world at large. Around 70 participants attended the event from a diverse set of backgrounds. Amongst them were representatives from the Embassy of Switzerland, Germany, Qatar, and the Ambassador of Japan as well as students, trade practitioners, government officials and academics.


To provide a more academic opportunity to reflect on the trade and investment law challenges brought about by the Trump Presidency, the high-level panel discussion was followed by an academic workshop the next day on May 16. Aside from further reflecting on recent actions in international trade regulation, the aim of the workshop consisted of identifying new research questions in response to these developments and to assess to what extend new methods of empirical analysis help to shed light on these processes.


In total, 19 participants attended the workshop including two researchers from the WTI in Switzerland, two scholars from the United States, several Canada-based academics and a handful of practitioners, diplomats and students from the University of Ottawa. The first part of the workshop centered on the role of preferential trade agreements and its public perception. Presenters Manfred Elsig and Simon Wüthrich used existing databases such as DESTA as well as novel text-as-data approaches to trace the evolution of the European Union’s trade policy over time and to assess the public perception of trade policy issues in relation to CETA. The second morning session then shifted the focus to the WTO and its legitimacy with presentations from Jennifer Hillman and Cosette Creamer. Afterwards, a lively lunch roundtable addressed the question how Canada should respond to US protectionism, which led smoothly into the final session on NAFTA’s renegotiation with presentations by Wolfgang Alschner, Patrick Leblond and Judit Fabien. Thoughtful remarks by the sessions’ commentators Krzysztof Pelc, Debra Steger, Anthony VanDuzer and Alexandre Larouche-Maltais ensured a high-quality discussion after each presentation. We are grateful for the speakers, commentators and participants for their contributions and attendance.


The two-day event at uOttawa underscored the need for an ongoing discussion on international trade and investment regulation in the Trump Era. All speakers and commentators agreed that the trade policy of the Trump Administration marked an important shift in long-standing U.S. policy whose repercussions are difficult to assess but potentially severe. As one speaker put it in relation to Canada: “We have to hope for the best, but plan for the worst”. Amidst this renewed importance of trade regulation, rising protectionism and growing backlash against trade and its institutions, the event at uOttawa was welcomed as a timely opportunity to take stock, to look back at past research including projects emerging from NCCR trade regulation and to scope the research questions of the future.