Canada-Third World Relations

The decolonization of the European empires after WWII produced many "new nations" and revealed how little economic and social development the colonial system had permitted its wards. The problem of the "Third World" and its "underdevelopment" was thus placed firmly on the global agenda.

Canada-Third World Relations

The decolonization of the European empires after WWII produced many "new nations" and revealed how little economic and social development the colonial system had permitted its wards. The problem of the "Third World" and its "underdevelopment" was thus placed firmly on the global agenda. In this postwar context, Canada projected an image of genuine concern for the demands and requirements of the Third World, an image which has struck a responsive chord with many Canadians and with many in the underdeveloped world itself. The allocation by the Canadian government of significant sums for foreign aid - a process marked by the launching of the COLOMBO PLAN (1950) and other regionally focused aid programs, and by the founding of the External Aid Office (1960) and its transformation into the CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (CIDA) in 1968 - is the most concrete manifestation of this concern (in 1985-86 CIDA dispensed $2.2 billion in aid to more than 50 countries). The "liberal internationalism" vigorously espoused by Lester B. PEARSON - he followed his prime ministership by presiding over an influential international inquiry into the causes of world poverty - and the support for "North-South dialogue" on development advocated by Pierre TRUDEAU have also been noteworthy.

These initiatives must be put in their proper context, however. Many Third World thinkers and activists have criticized their countries' inheritance of a subordinate and dependent position within the international economic system (termed by them "neo-colonialism") and have advocated a radical and structural transformation of the situation, both locally and internationally. In contrast, Canadian policymakers have consistently defended the broad merits of the existing global economy. Their goal is primarily one of reform at the margin of the international economic system to allow some amelioration of the condition of the world's poor and to pre-empt more revolutionary demands. Though never quite as extreme as its counterpart in the US, the Canadian government has tended to view radical development strategies proposed by some Third World countries as either unacceptably threatening or as manifestations of an international "communist menace," an interpretation which parallels the American Cold War perspective on the Third World.

There has also been a gap between rhetoric and reality in the Canadian approach. In 1984 the Canadian government pledged to reach an aid target of 0.5% of gross domestic product by 1985; there would be a gradual increase to 0.6% from 1991 to 1995 and to 0.7% by the year 2000. Nevertheless, FOREIGN AID has consistently fallen below levels recommended by the UN. Moreover, foreign-aid programs often emphasize the interests of Canadian suppliers and contractors more than the requirements of the recipient countries themselves. Simultaneously, there has been a shift in emphasis away from aiding the poorest of the poor countries and towards aiding those larger and wealthier Third World economies, which are also the more attractive potential trading partners.

This approach also has marked Canada's participation in international forums such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the LAW OF THE SEA conferences, and the various negotiations directed towards redressing inequities in the realm of INTERNATIONAL TRADE and investment that have emerged around the theme of a "New International Economic Order." In such settings, Canada has frequently found itself taking up a far more intransigent and defensive posture than other Western "middle powers" such as the Scandinavian countries.

Canada's own economic difficulties in recent years may partly account for these tendencies, but the very close integration of the Canadian business community into the policymaking process in such spheres has been an important factor as well. Canada's relationship to the less developed areas of the world was structured, long before the post-WWII period, by the expansive role of Canadian- based banks, mining and utility companies. By the turn of this century, this was already true of the links Canada was establishing with the Caribbean and Latin America.

Such business interests have continued to be one of the dominant determinants of Canada's relationship with developing nations. However, Canada's links to the developing world are not monopolized by government and the business community. There is a large network of church-sponsored groups and agencies, voluntary "nongovernmental (aid) organizations" (of the OXFAM type) and more overtly political developing nation support groups. A majority of these groups have supported critical views of present workings of the global economy and the causes of underdevelopment, views that are sensitive to the claims of international equity and the legitimacy of revolutionary action in some settings (eg, South Africa). Often critical of Canadian government and business practices in developing nations, such groups have generally not succeeded in determining Canadian policy to any major degree, but they have kept alive a sharp debate on the nature of Canada's links to the developing world.


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