Free trade, but no union
Scene: New Orleans. The "Three Amigos" are having a conversation about how the three economies of Canada, the United States and Mexico can reduce costly border security measures and differing product standards. Outside protesters are waving banners and shouting slogans about secret negotiations to create a North American Union. What should the average Canadian make of this contrast and the future of our continent?
First of all, no one wants a North American Union similar to what the 27 countries of Europe have created for themselves. Europe is now a complex decision-making web where the average citizen feels less and less in control of overall policy. This is no model for us.
Do Canada, the U.S. or Mexico want to water down our constitutions, our political autonomy, our independence? No. So let us remove this silly idea that somehow these talks are about political union.
So what is the alternative? Each country constructs and controls its national economy and erects whatever protective walls it wants? We have been through that. For most of Canadian-American history, strong tariff walls and protective measures separated our economies. After many efforts at reciprocity and free trade, we finally succeeded in 1989 and made it continental in 1994. Despite all the fear mongers and naysayers at the time, free trade has been good to all three countries and as Canadians, we are stronger, more self confident and more secure as a political nation. We have lost nothing in terms of independence and autonomy.
Does this mean we are done? We have free trade so can we all go home now?
DIFFERING STANDARDS REMAIN
Free trade only took away most tariffs. Many other protectionist regulations and differing standards remain, robbing us of more trade and prosperity potential. Meanwhile, most of the modern trading world have adopted free trade arrangements just like us. As a result, the absence of tariff barriers between Canada and the United States is not as competitive as it was 20 years ago.
To remain competitive with modern Europe and dynamic Asia, we must peddle furiously on the Free Trade bicycle. To make matters worse, we have been hit by terrorism in North America and as a result, our border security has been heightened. Last year, half of Canadian exports went out by truck, and three quarters of imports came in by truck. Can we not find a modern way to satisfy security without hindering trade? Should the question of security really be mainly at the Canada-American border or should it be about our joined security versus threats from overseas.
To be prosperous we need to go as far as we can to remove all barriers to trade and all security measures that separate us as neighbours and trading partners. That is what the New Orleans meeting, and hopefully its successors, is all about. Canadians should support it and demand quick progress.
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