Understanding US Traid Policy


Thread Starter
Feb 7, 2001
Jan. 11, 2003. 08:20 AM
U.S. the world leader in bully-boy trading
New move to box in Central America


The Americans deserve a prize for chutzpah in trade relations with ostensible allies.

In Washington this week, Robert Zoellick, the Bush administration trade representative, launched official talks to bring five Central American countries into the ever-widening Western Hemisphere trade zone that already binds Canada and Mexico to the United States.

It must have been a humiliating moment for the foreign ministers of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as they watched Zoellick rationalize U.S. altruism in Latin America, with his patronizing assessment of the region.

"This is more than a trade negotiation," Zoellick said, adding it is "a plan to strengthen democracy and promote development in a region that has known too little of both."

Civil unrest in Central America. Who might have played a role in that? Sponsored the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Chile? Exercised gunboat diplomacy in Grenada? Sent Ollie North to help the Contras in Nicaragua?

A diplomat would know better than to open old wounds. But Zoellick is no diplomat, notwithstanding his State Department credentials. He's the Bush administration's trade bully.

Brazil has its own ideas of hemispheric trade, modelled on the European Community, where there was no union until all its members were prepared to sign on. The United States prefers to recruit its trade partners a few at a time — first Canada, then Mexico, then Chile last month, none of them strong enough to negotiate with the Americans as equal partners.

Earlier this month, Zoellick told Brazil, by far the largest of the Latin American economies and the best managed of them under outgoing president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, that it had better join Team U.S.A. soon or risk trading exclusively with Antarctica.

Howls of outrage in the Brazilian press. These Americans, they're subtle as a brick. And dumb, too. Doesn't everyone know it's Argentina that claims the South Pole as its hinterland?

That's the context in which George Bush's commerce department issued another of its recent demands, namely that British Columbia and other Canadian provinces be stripped of the right to determine their own forestry policies.

No need to go into the details, which amount to a U.S. insistence that Victoria stop its alleged subsidies to Canadian softwood producers. The hoped-for result? Our wood becomes less competitive in the U.S. market. And Americans are forced to pay more for a new house — another of Bush's curious ideas for reviving a stagnant U.S. economy.

Never mind that Canada keeps winning the right for B.C. to manage its natural resources at a succession of international trade-dispute panels. Like separatist governments in Quebec that threaten to continue holding sovereignty referendums until they're satisfied with the result, the United States simply ignores world trade decisions that go against it, restates its original allegations and imposes more punitive duties on our exports.

That is also the context in which a few supine mandarins in our Foreign Affairs and International Trade ministries developed an early Valentine's Day list of steps Ottawa should take to develop a more affectionate relationship with the United States.

In a memo obtained by the Star last week, the authors propose that Canada go beyond the recent move to jointly manage our borders. In order to allay potential U.S. concerns about its energy security, Ottawa should invite the United States to jointly manage our energy policy, too.

"Such an initiative is increasingly enjoying analytical support," say the government policy advisers, citing as an authoritative source the free-market pamphleteers at the C.D. Howe Institute and other conservative think-tanks. "And the costs of not doing so are immense," they say, without explaining why, or justifying their alarmism with proof.

It must occur to Americans that we take some kind of masochistic pleasure in negotiating from weakness.

The United States projects its strength, threatening to close the world's most lucrative market to trading partners unless they submit to U.S. dictates on everything from drug-patent policy to intellectual property rights for software, music and Steven Spielberg epics.

We project our weakness. The starting point for our negotiators is that our centuries-old trading relationship will almost certainly be obliterated if we don't find a way to oblige U.S. demands as comfortably as we can manage.

The United States doesn't hide its bluster, a wise negotiating tactic; and we don't hide our fear, a bone-headed tactic.

Bush's $180 billion (U.S.) handout to American farmers last year has depressed world prices for agricultural commodities, cutting Canadian farm receipts by an estimated $1.3 billion Canadian.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relies on Canada, its second-largest source of imported oil, for 1.8 million barrels of oil each day. It is so strapped for oil that it's still taking 500,000 barrels a day from Iraq, of all places.

Georgia and other states have used copious handouts to entice automakers to build the North American industry's 13 newest plants there and not in Canada.

Meanwhile, the U.S. auto industry relies heavily on Canada for its total production. Several of the industry's most efficient and highest-volume assembly plants are here in Ontario, their output mostly destined for U.S. showrooms. A brief shutdown at a single Ontario parts plant not long ago crippled much of GM's vehicle production.

We don't play to these strengths. For instance, because we're not a banana republic — all right, a maple syrup republic — it doesn't occur to us to answer U.S. bullying with a seller's strike.

With riot-torn oil exporter Venezuela out of production, this would be an especially unfortunate time for the United States to contemplate an OPEC-like closing of the Alberta spigots. Or a not-unreasonable delay in shipping Ontario-made minivans, SUVs, land yachts, econoboxes and pickups across the border — until we're absolutely sure that the new border arrangements are fail-safe.

Oh gosh, Uncle Sam, we'll need another month at least, to determine if these new screening devices are working properly. Can't take a chance that any of those five suspects on the FBI list are strapped to the underbelly of these transports!

You wouldn't envy Zoellick that day.

"Mr. Zoellick, it's Bill Ford. Listen, we've got a problem here."

"Bill, I've got to put you on hold, I've got Rick Wagoner and a Dieter-something on the other lines."

That would be amateur hour in Ottawa, of course. And a clear contravention of the zillion bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to which Canada is a faithfully observant signatory. Funny how these sworn avowals to uphold free trade principles do not inform U.S. trade policy, or even awaken any sense of irony that U.S. protectionists might possess.

Hardball is not a specialty of Canadian governments.

But there's nothing stopping voters in our consumer society from taking up the cause on behalf of unemployed B.C. timber workers and subsistence farmers on the Prairies. Or of the Ontario autoworkers who've been warned they stand no chance of getting either of the two remaining new assembly plants to be built in North America unless the automakers succeed in extracting a sizeable dollop of corporate welfare from Canadian taxpayers.

So why not buy that next pair of jeans at The Bay, rather than Gap. Rent those videos at Rogers, rather than Blockbuster? Order an espresso at Timothy's or Second Cup, instead of Starbucks, and you don't need to be told that the burgers are way better at Harvey's than you-know-where. And at Rona, instead of Home Depot, you'll want the lumber stamped Canfor, not Georgia-Pacific.

Try it for a day, a week. They'll get the message. It's the only one they'd understand.

Sound juvenile? Insensitive to the United States, supposedly our best friend in the world? Yes, it would be juvenile, insensitive and, without a trace of ambiguity, self-serving. Now you understand U.S. trade policy.



Gone but Never Forgotten
Jun 2, 2002
Thx for that tipacanoe:

That expressed many Canadian's feeling towards their so-called "neighbour" to the south. Thx- it saved the effort of struggling to articulate my thoughts on the subject. It's been said once and I will say it again: It is a fact that money is far more important to Canadains than patriotism or soveriegnty. As far as I'm concerned, Canadians, through their elected governments, sold their soles to the devil long ago. The preservation of their nation is much less important than saving 20 cents on the price of a hamburger.

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