Saturday, November 12, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mr. Hewitt was going to talk free trade, so...


Mr. Bush (a great man whom I take a LOT of flak for supporting in this neck of the woods) is going to have a very difficult time selling the concept of free trade to anyone in the Americas so long as the United States continues to refuse to play by the rules of the the FTA & NAFTA. The Softwood Lumber Dispute has gone as far as it can go in the dispute resolution process, the Canadians have won at every level, and the United States' Federal Government still refuses to abide by the rulings. Five & a half BILLION dollars which belong to Canadian lumber producers - some of whom are American companies - is sitting in limbo, when it ought to be repaid immediately. This administration is handing a big stick to Hugo Chavez with which to beat the possibility of any new trade agreements with. It also makes it very difficult for Americaphiles like myself to get an ear here in Trudeaupia. Why would any cold-eyed, intelligent, trade-friendly, business-like president or prime minister sign a trade agreement with a party - the United States - who can't be trusted to follow through on the agreement?

As I tell my friends here, who shake their heads when they see the Stars 'n' Stripes hanging in my office (and which I have had hanging somewhere close to me almost non-stop since 9-11), Mr. Bush is a free-trader. Unfortunately, Senators & Congressmen - of all stripes - are protectionist to the core when it comes to the goring of their constituents' oxen - even when those oxen are sick and dying of the protectionist disease, and the North American lumber industry is a case study in how tariffs hurt everyone, especially those they are meant to protect. (And Mr. Bush is unwilling to tell the Commerce Department to enforce trade tribunals' rulings or lobby Congress hard to lay off the protectionism, because there are Senate seats up for grabs in lumber producing States - understandable, but unproductive in the long run). Under tariffs, the Canadian lumber producers have become lean and hyper-efficient, while the U.S. producers have become fat, unproductive, and lazy - to themselves and U.S. consumers alike - just ask Home Depot.

If free trade is to work, the players have to follow the rules. Play hard, play tough, play to win - but when the ref rules it a touchdown, line up for the kickoff - don't sit down in the middle of the field and refuse to let the game continue.