Monday September 01, 2014

Time to push back on U.S. trade


As neighbours go, things between Canada and the U.S. are about as good as it gets.

We have not been at war or tried to invade one another — at least not in 200 years. Even then, the war of 1812 happened 65 years before Canada was a country.

That is an enviable record compared with countries that share borders on every other continent. Consider how many times England has been at war with France, Germany, Spain. Consider Russia’s relations with its neighbouring countries set free after communist.

Think about the relations between Japan, China, and North and South Korea, the tensions between India and Pakistan, the fighting among African nations or the entire Middle East.

Our border is the longest undefended border of the planet. And while those on both sides might gripe about coming through customs, there are still no fences like there is between Mexico and the U.S.

The Canada-U.S. relation is a unique one in this world — two strong, diverse modern countries living side-by-side with the same shared values and interests.

Heck, the biggest story in Saskatchewan of late is a North Dakota boy who adopted Regina and its football team as his own and is now going back to his own country to play. We wished him well as would a neighbour who watched a son grow up and move on.

But is it a perfect relationship? Have we always been treated like the good neighbours that we have been?

Well, the recent fight over the U.S.’s Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy — at issue that hits us right in the heartland in places like rural Saskatchewan — suggests that much could be improved.

How close this issue is to Saskatchewan was evident in comments from Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart last week who advocated the federal government consider retaliating with trade sanctions of our own.

“We’re just very disappointed that the U.S. Country of Origin Labelling rules are not changed in the proposed (American) agriculture bill,” Stewart said at the Legislature last week.

“This is a restrictive trade measure. The cattle industry in this country has said for years that if the U.S. wants to label, that’s fine with us, but it’s discriminatory the way the rules segregate Canadian cattle and even cuts of meat, in U.S. packing plants. It’s discriminatory against Canadian cattle and hogs and is costing our industry a billion dollars a year.”

That billion-dollar-a-year is based on what COOL has cost our cattle industry since 2008.

It (retaliatory trade sanctions) is not good for anybody,” said Stewart. “But that’s not the next step at this point.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary, but if it comes to that, we will be in full support.”

Stewart explained that trade sanction should only be the last resort after Canada takes the matter to the World Trade Organization hearings in Geneva this month. Unfortunately, that bureaucratic path will take until at least 2015 for that to play out before that process concludes.

Even if tariffs mean higher prices on some imports, “we can’t be pushed around like this by any of our trading partners,” Stewart said.

In the greater scheme of international relations, this might not seem like a big deal.

But it is just one of many incidents in which our neighbour has decided to take advantage of our good nature. Whether it’s been the BSE crisis (that’s became the U.S.’s excuses for COOL) or past U.S. sanctions against our wheat, potash and uranium, the Americans have consistently taken advantage of Canadian trade whenever it suits their purposes.

There comes a time when you just have to tell your neighbour — even your very good neighbour — that you are not happy.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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