September 24, 2005

Should Canada get out of NAFTA?

Well friends, a lot of Canadians are pissed at the lack of progress in the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. British Columbia's lumber industry has been taking an economic pummelling because of this for the past few years now.

Numerous WTO rulings have gone in Canada's favour over the past few years, and the rulings generally state that the countervailing duties imposed by the U.S. on Canadian softwood are unfair and "illegal" (see the Canadian Gov't web site on this topic:

Here's a timeline of events from the "Epoch Times" web site:

Widely respected former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Lloyd Axeworthy, says:

The reality is that we are dealing with an American political system currently steeped in the ideology of "empire." It recognizes few rules, adheres only to those treaties that are expedient to basic interests, and believes that the only political currency that counts is the exercise of raw power.

In its mildest form, it practises a la carte bilateralism, co-operating only when it wants to, and when it suits short-term domestic or international objectives. In its bad days, it simply follows a strategy of "take no prisoners," "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead," "don't tread on me," "America First," or any other of the clich├ęs used by ultra-patriots. These are the extant policy directives from the White House.


Compounding these difficulties are new U.S. security measures at the border that increasingly restrict the movement of goods and people. Canada has been exceedingly compliant with these security demands, accepting with little challenge the U.S. view of counterterrorism, to the point of conceding an erosion of basic Charter rights.

Let's face it: This is a painful and uncertain time in our relations with the United States. Muddling through from crisis to crisis won't work.

Neither will listening to the chorus of continentalist claptrap promoting more U.S.-Canada integration — look no farther than the present disputes to see where such policies have landed us — or the calls for protectionism and retaliation that can still be heard from the Left. It's time for new policies and tough action to shift our trade and security strategies away from a preoccupation with continental matters to a more global footing.

Let's begin by seriously considering an end to NAFTA and reliance instead upon the World Trade Organization to regulate the terms and provisions of free trade.

It's pretty strong language, from a man who has an international perspective, and the experience to know what he's talking about. (Read Lloyd Axeworthy's full article from the Toronto Sun...)

Some other people feel that Canada should just get the heck out of the North American Free Trade Agreement altogether. According to this article by two guys who appear to be practically experts on NAFTA it might be a good idea:

The fact is, something like 85% of Canada's trade is with the U.S., so some of our politicians up here are quite rightly worried about jeopardizing that trade. Without more diversity in our international trade, the negative impact of the loss of it for some provinces would be devastating.

It will take time for other international trade markets (like China, or the European Union) to develop to such a degree that Canada would have a buffer against any potential worsening in the Canada-U.S. trade war.

My gut tells me that this agressive approach to trade by the American Lumber Lobby (as one example) hints at one thing: insecurity, economically speaking, from the American manufacturers and exporters. If I am correct, then this is a "me first - screw everyone else" approach that will only further damage U.S. foreign relations. The scent in the wind now is that the Bush administration is beginning to soften their approach overall - starting to become more conciliatory or middle-ground, and less polarized.

It's so weird. Canadian and American people on a personal level, have always had the capacity to be friendly and help each other when times are tough. Look how many Canadian rescue teams and supplies and equipment flew down to New Orleans (and are still down there.) We Canadians took our American friends in during 9/11. We have always had the capacity to care about each other and cooperate on a personal level as individuals. It seems to be the ideologues and the protectionist, "money before people" capitalists who screw up the happy vibe between our two countries.

It can be hard to find a balance between sharing and protecting one's own interests. But, this particular trade war is an example of the scale being forced too far to one side, to Canada's disadvantage, and I think a reassessment and some "insurance" is called for between the two governments. As the old saying goes up here, "The U.S. are our best friends, whether we like it or not".

Canada and the U.S. have had numerous trade disputes in the past, so perhaps that in itself is just part of our relationship. Maybe the dispute isn't the problem, but just a function of the relationship, and the real barometer of our collective health is how humanely and peacefully we solve our disputes.

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