A reassessment needed

It has become apparent that there should be a reassessment of the North American Free Trade Agreement. A recent public opinion poll has made it clear that Canadians want NAFTA renegotiated; a democratically elected government simply must respond to that.

Simon Reisman, who was the chief negotiator of the deal, said that if he knew then what he knows now, he never would have approved of the pact. Furthermore, Gordon Ritchie, Canada’s deputy-chief negotiator, said the United States is violating the spirit of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and is threatening Canadian interests. He was quoted as saying, “The Americans are in an increasingly protectionist mood as the economy continues to falter, and the electorate (there) feels more and more threatened. This has translated into very aggressive behaviour at the border with Canada, including breaches of the FTA and actions to subvert the FTA.”

Pinhas Dror, the Israeli Embassy’s top trade official, was given a detailed briefing of the Canadian deal by U.S. trade officials. That objective observer argued that, “All in all, if someone puts together what Canada gave up and what the United States gave up, my own personal opinion is that Canada gave up 100 times more than it received. The United States is getting a tremendous deal.”

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik published a volume entitled, Has Globalization Gone too Far? That report was issued by the pro-free-trade Institute for International Economics. Rodrik claimed that in the long run in an open economy, free trade undermines domestic political support for public outlays. That is because globalization extends the political power of business along with its economic reach. That economist argued that corporations are free to move to venues with lower costs and lower taxes, all with the burdens borne by workers.

Insights such as those, coming from a mainstream economist, coupled with the current views of Canada’s trade negotiating team, should reinforce the public’s newly asserted wish for the North American free Trade Agreement to be renegotiated.

Now Angus Reid’s Global Monitor poll has been released, revealing that only 18 per cent of Canadians believe that Canada should continue to be a member of NAFTA under the present terms, while 52 per cent state that Canada should do whatever is necessary to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA. Nearly half, 46 per cent, think that the U.S. has benefitted more from NAFTA than the other North American countries, and 50 per cent think that NAFTA has not benefitted Canadian workers at all.

The public today recognizes that Canada has lost control of its oil resources and cannot operate independently in that sector. Also, in dispute after dispute the U.S. ignores the mechanism established to resolve trade conflicts, most recently in the case of lumber. Our control of our exports of wheat via the Wheat Board is in dispute, and our command of our water resources is in jeopardy.

It is obvious, then, that the Canadian government must respond to the public’s expressed wishes in this crucial matter.


Bruce Whitestone