As a Nation of Free-Traders, We Must Address Terror Issues
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, September 18, 2004

There’s a story about two men in a tent who hear a bear scratching outside. As the first dons his running shoes the other says, “You can’t outrun a bear.” “I know,” replies the first. “But I only have to outrun you.”

Since September 11, 2001, many Liberals have been running while others are still lacing their shoes wondering what to do. Those in denial like Carolyn Parrish believe social programs will somehow protect Canada against a terrorist strike, never mind abandoning a friend and protector to fight the terrorist bear outside.

It’s another example of the wacky world of Liberal policy making. Punch the United States, however ineffectually, on the nose for just about any reason but be a marshmallow on trade issues, particularly on western-Canadian trade issues.

Some may applaud but from the rest there’s little respect, least of all from the United States. Here, the toughest, best organized and most egocentric special interest groups on the planet enjoy support in Congress and span key western Canadian exports such as softwood lumber, cattle and grain. Shamelessly and ad nauseum, they appeal trade panel decisions favouring Canada.

Even the record oil prices Alberta enjoys aren’t immune from U.S. influence. On the contrary, they will likely drop precipitously once George W. Bush inoculates the Middle East with Iraqi democracy and stabilizes supplies.

The news for western Canada isn’t all bad. The U.S. government is facing pressure from other trading partners to eliminate farm subsidies and the Byrd Amendment - the outrageous law that rewards U.S. companies with import duties collected from foreign firms.

And, as a member of the world’s largest trading partnership ($1.4 billion daily), Canada has defied the free-trade critics and maintained its fiscal, social and political autonomy from the U.S. Wall Street rating agency, Standard & Poor’s, attributes this to Canada’s good economic management and strong political institutions.

None of this, however, is consolation for westerners when times are tough and the U.S. still calls the shots. Short of frog marching Brian Mulroney to Washington to re-negotiate free trade, what to do?

Due diligence through NAFTA and WTO tribunals hasn’t been altogether effective for wheat or lumber and may not prove effective for cattlemen suing the U.S. government either. It is however necessary for maintaining Canada’s bona fides as a rules based fair trader and may yet yield results for the softwood lumber industry in repaid duties of $2.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Industry Minister David Emerson has called for ‘linkage’ – that is, put everything on the table and be prepared to win some and lose some. The prime minister has rejected this, presumably because the relevant sectors are unlikely to agree on who should win and who should lose. Other strategies, such as cultivating allies or direct-to-consumer public relations and media influence appear not to have been considered. Of course, if Canadians receive a hearing in the U.S., we would have to reciprocate, expect and get an earful.

In this respect, the prime minister’s address to the Sun Valley conference in July hit one important mark. Trade disputes are affecting business efficiency and failure to streamline NAFTA will imperil business confidence in Canada, the United States and Mexico, he told media moguls and other executives.

Whatever remedy Canada attempts, success in restoring sound trade relations with the U.S. may finally depend on revisiting the events of September 11, 2001.

That day witnessed an attack on the World Trade Center – not the Empire State Building, not the Statue of Liberty, not the United Nations, or a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue. Intended or not, it was an attack on an activity - trade - that the founders of the European Common Market deemed the way forward for achieving peace, prosperity and stability among sovereign nations, a path the United States and Canada endorsed when they signed their free trade agreements. By razing the World Trade Center, terrorists served notice on all trading nations.

As they must, Americans are rebuilding the World Trade Center and addressing the root causes of terrorism while Canada has resisted linking trade and security. Given shared border issues, this is impossible logistically and futile, if not hypocritical, politically. Reasserting the dream of peace through trade, Canada must assume a presence both symbolic and concrete alongside its southern neighbour. Whatever the Liberal running shoe brigade might say, we are in this tent together.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears weekly.

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