Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney. June 19, 1988
Credits: FILE PHOTO
He and then-US president Ronald Reagan not only sang the same tune -- When Irish Eyes Are Smiling -- but they were also in sync when it came to the need for a bilateral trade agreement.
Wednesday night, while President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney thrashed it out in their first televised debate, Mulroney was at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum reflecting on Thursday's 25th anniversary of his most notable accomplishment, the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
It was an ideological shift changer. It forced the U.S. to relinquish some of its formidable power within its entrenched trade protocol, and was a precursor to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
As Mulroney put it, he had one main goal in his trade negotiations with the U.S.
"If there was no dispute settlement process," he said, "there was no deal."
The success of the FTA cannot be denied, as evidenced by the positive growth statistics that the anti-free trade crowd warned would never materialize to benefit Canada.
How wrong they were. Trouble is, time moves on, global economies change and new ones emerge, all while free trade under Canada's often tariff-heavy thought process has remained effectively static.
It's not thinking with a 21st century mindset, and Mulroney agrees.
"Conventional rules for trade and investment that carried us through the last half of the 20th century will not be sufficient," he said.
"What many emerging markets have in common is the extent to which the 'visible' hand of government is directing economic policy.
"The challenges are daunting," he said, "but the opportunities are enormous (and) tangible moves to more open trade and investment are still the best tonics for the global economy." In an average minute, 24/7, more than $1 million in goods and services are exchanged between Canada and the U.S.
This is testimony to Mulroney's trade acumen.
But it is the emerging markets that must now be exploited.
Canada, for example, is no longer on the list of the Top 10 global trading nations.
This, said Mulroney, must be rectified. And he is not wrong.