François-Philippe Champagne (Greenfield Park, Canada, 1970) does not fall off the words collaboration and cooperation. A newly re-elected Justin Trudeau appointed him last November as Foreign Minister, relieving Chrystia Freeland, who played a very active role in renegotiating the new trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, as well as in the international group of countries that recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. He demanded that Nicolás Maduro withdraws from power to hold elections. Champagne, a lawyer who came to the Canadian Parliament in 2015 from the private sector, exudes sympathy over the phone. However, the measures his words with surgeon’s care in addressing the hottest issues of the Trump Administration or the Venezuelan conflict.
Question. Do you fear that such an abrupt and disruptive crisis will jeopardize the values of multilateralism?
Reply. We have examples of this not being the case. When the COVID-19 crisis started, I brought together a group of 12 or 15 countries, a kind of subgroup of the G-20, which includes Mexico and Brazil, among others. We have spoken regularly. We discussed how to maintain medical equipment supply chains or how to facilitate the repatriation of citizens, including the establishment of air bridges, as in World War II. I believe that the old alliances will continue and that, with this crisis, new ones will be created, the result of more significant concern for the supply of food or equipment, among others. This is the biggest crisis in 75 years, the most serious of our generation. Most of the institutions that exist now were created after World War II and have served us well. Still, I think we must work hard to think about what new institutions we need for the challenges of the 21st century, such as inequality, climate change or human rights.
Q. Can you give examples of new alliances being created?
R . What I have mentioned about the COVID-19. This group of countries includes Brazil, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Singapore, France, Germany … I don’t think they spoke every week before. But I think other countries are also talking about how to diversify their supply routes. And many want Canada to take the initiative to amplify their voices. This crisis is, in addition to health, also a matter of peace, stability and security.
Q. Are you trying to put the United States at the table?
A. We are friends of the United States, partners and allies. We work on many issues. I believe that the United States plays a fundamental role in rethinking these institutions.
Q. We have seen how several countries veto the export of masks and other essential medical equipment for this pandemic. Aren’t you afraid that the post-pandemic world is more protectionist?
A. The responses to this crisis have been domestic but reported by international organizations. In health, by the World Health Organization. From a financial point of view, stimulus packages were discussed in the G-7, the G-20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And when we look at how to revive the economy, what you see is the countries working with the OECD. Multilateral institutions are crucial.
Q. Do you think that the entry into force of the new trade agreement with the United States and Mexico will be delayed?
A. The new NAFTA [first acronym for 1994] is an excellent thing for the hemisphere. It provides stability and predictability in our relationship. As a result of this crisis, we want it to serve to strengthen domestic production and strengthen our integrated supply chain.
Q. But for your part, is there going to be any delay in starting it up?
A. On the Canadian side, we have completed ratification and are ready to move forward when our partners are. It is a Best deal for all three. Obviously, we are now facing the pandemic, but I think the new agreement will be crucial in the economic revival that we all want for North America.
Q. The Lima Group [created by a group of American countries in 2017 to support the Venezuelan opposition] seems to have lost momentum. Canada plays an essential role in it. Do you have any idea how to reinvigorate it or do you think that, after this time and with Nicolás Maduro still in power, a new approach is needed?
A. We are trying to create that momentum. I, as co-chair of the group, together with Peru, have been in contact with Brazil and Colombia, which logically, is very affected by the humanitarian crisis that is taking place. More than five million people have been displaced from Venezuela to Colombia. I have also recently spoken with Juan Guaidó. I think that the idea of the international community to restore democracy in Venezuela is to put everyone in agreement, be it through the Lima Group, the Swedish initiative or the contact group. I have recently spoken with other colleagues to ensure that we are all behind the recognized president, Juan Guaidó, to support the American initiative and, I hope, return democracy to the country.
Q. What do you think of the position of the Spanish Government? The president, Pedro Sánchez did not receive Guaidó in Madrid, and there has also been a change of language, concerning Guaidó as an opponent, although without withdrawing the recognition of acting president. Washington has criticized him. What do you think?
A. Well, I think everyone has realized that the best way to restore democracy is to work together. Spain, for example, hosts a donor conference to raise funds for refugees [May 26]. I believe that each one, in their own way, is trying to achieve a common objective, which is the objective of Juan Guaidó and, I believe, of the Venezuelan people, which is to end this crisis as quickly as possible and restore democracy. This has lasted too long, and I think that everyone is willing to commit time and effort to help Venezuelans in their quest for equality.