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March 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

GUEST COLUMN

 

Time to move on beyond the United States, and embrace trade with the world

By Adam J Leamy and Jamie Lamb

In our column in the last issue of Logging & Sawmilling Journal, we talked about the current low state of trade relations with the United States, notably in softwood lumber. Let’s look at what lies ahead.

If you listen to what Canadians are saying, and read what they are writing, you can see that Canadians are embracing greater trade with new partners, like China, Korea, India and Japan, in goods like softwood lumber, and in commodities like energy.

Canada exists because of trade. Free and fair trade. Canadian voters will be quick to punish Canadian governments spending more time on trying to get the Americans to honour their existing NAFTA responsibilities than they are on pursuing new trade opportunities. Canadians have crossed the trade Rubicon, and want to trade with other countries that want, and are willing, to trade fairly for our commodities and products. Political parties in Canada out of step with this emerging dynamic will pay a price at the voting booth.

We know these are not easy times in the relationship between our two countries— well, at least Canadians know it. In the midst of this abandonment by the US of its commitment to NAFTA, and the integrity of this agreement vital to our two countries, and to other countries whose path to deeper democracy and wider prosperity can be furthered through trade, Canadians have grown tired of the American preach.

There has been no more irritating stream of uninformed silliness than that being spouted by David Wilkins, whom George W Bush chose to make the US ambassador to Canada. In arguably the darkest days of Canada-US trade relations, the US president chose as ambassador to Canada someone whose only experience in the country was, by his account, a weekend in Niagara Falls in the early 1970s when he was posted in Indiana with the US Army.

Canadians understand the message being delivered by the Americans: Canada and Canadians are irrelevant, and here’s an ambassador to match.

Wilkins’ role thus far has been little more than repeated whinnying that Canada must “get back to the table” and“negotiate” with the US on softwood— even though the US ignores the provisions of a negotiated NAFTA, and the rulings of agreed-upon dispute-settlement mechanisms. Every time Wilkins utters these words, he is telling Canadians that Americans think we’re more than just irrelevant—we’re stupid, too. When the issue is breach of faith by one party of the provisions of a legal agreement, when has the solution ever been for the aggrieved party to sit down and negotiate even more provisions with the party doing the breaching of the existing provisions? Do Americans tolerate this? Why would Canadians?

Frankly, ask Canadians, and they’re likely to say better the Canadian prime minister simply tell Wilkins to leave the country and return to South Carolina than go on allowing this irritating little man within our border. His first visit here decades ago was too short. This time, he’s overstayed his welcome.

The more disheartening outcome for many Canadians from all this softwood lumber mess is that our relationship with the US has changed, and it has changed deeply and forever in hearts and homes across this country. We’re neighbours, certainly, and lots of places in the world look with appreciation and respect at the way we manage our borders with each other.

But in truth, we’re tired of not being listened to. We’ve had enough of it, thanks. Neighbours may not always get along, but friends . . . friends try harder.

We’ve been polite—maybe too polite—and we’ve been forceful—though perhaps not forceful enough. We’ve been shown at every turn that we’re not relevant, and that the needs of our country under NAFTA are secondary to American needs. They’re not, but America won’t be honouring its trade agreement with Canada any time soon, nor will it be abiding by any dispute resolution panel rulings either. We learned this when Bush’s nominee for under secretary of commerce for international trade told Senate finance committee hearings he’d “turn over every stone” to find a way to keep collecting Canada’s duty deposits despite the many NAFTA rulings that the duty be removed.

So enough of this. For Canada, there are new trading partners to pursue. There are other countries that will trade freely and fairly for our lumber, our beef, and our energy. There’s a new trade horizon for Canada and Canadians, and it’s time
to pursue it.

And of our relationship with the US? Geography makes us neighbours, and we can’t change that. But friends? Well, it won’t be the first friendship that has ended with one party having nothing left to say to the other than “Buzz off.”

Adam J Leamy earned his master’s in public administration at the University of Southern California. Jamie Lamb was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. They are partners in Northwest Public Affairs, a BC-based consulting firm.

 

 

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