Editorial: It could get hot
Discussing European trade dredges up some interesting opinions.
By Patrick Flannery
I think we’re going to have some fun at Top Glass. For the first time, we’re trying a discussion panel with three great experts – and the topic is red hot. Canada and the European Union have recently signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which removes hundreds of tariffs and quotas on trade in just about everything. In a political climate where there’s a lot of talk about building walls between countries, we have just torn a big one down. Some are calling it the last free trade agreement, as it seems unlikely that the conditions that allowed this to happen will arise again any time soon.
The question I want answered is: so what? Does this agreement change anything for our industry? Riyaz Dattu, a trade lawyer from Osler, Hoskins and Harcourt, will be able to fill us in on what elements of the construction industry are affected. But an early reading suggests that it will become cheaper and easier to both sell and buy architectural glass building products and services in the European market, and for them to do so here. There is also provision for making it easier for architects to work across borders both here and there.
Some will see this as a threat. Big German fabricators are already very active throughout North America selling the world’s biggest glass and most sophisticated facade technology. The Europeans are too far ahead, these people will say. They have too much knowledge, too many skilled engineers and too much experience on the world’s most advanced projects. They already export all over the world and have unbeatable economies of scale. We are behind. Our industry is set up only to deliver cookie-cutter systems that just work OK and don’t cost too much. Lower trade barriers will only ever mean Europeans taking a bigger chunk of our market while we remain forever banished from theirs due to our institutional inferiority.
Or is there another way to look at this? The European Union represents a larger economy than the United States. Not everything being built there appears on the cover of an architectural magazine. Bruce Nicol, an architect who works for Dow Corning out of the U.K. will tell us a bit about what is being built in Europe these days and what the trends are in the construction market there. Maybe there is a chance for a Canadian fabricator with a great curtain wall system that costs a bit less than his French rival’s to make some sales. Or maybe someone here could leverage the knowledge that we know exists and develop products and services that are just as sophisticated as anything the Europeans are producing – and get busy with the hard work of convincing them of that.
Making suggestions like the one above can call your sanity into question. In fact, I suspect that is exactly what Yvon Chaisson of Morrison Hershfield is going to do to me when we get to this part of the discussion. Fortunately, he’s going to have a lot of technical information for us on how the Europeans build differently and why their stuff has the reputation it does for being better. My hope is that he can provide a road map for where we need to go as an industry to take advantage of this great opportunity that lies before us.