Canada trade deal needs to be protected

Freedom New Mexico

President Obama’s visit to Canada was notable for the ever-so-slight undercurrents of uneasiness between two countries that have enjoyed generally amicable relations over the sometimes touchy issue of trade.

Obama made foolish comments during the presidential campaign (in the heart of a Rust Belt filled with people and union leaders eager to blame trade for the decline in certain industries) about seeking to renegotiate or even abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement. And Congress (at the behest of the steel industry and its unions) inserted a “Buy American” provision into the infrastructure section of the recently passed “stimulus” spending bill.

To his credit, President Obama urged Congress to stipulate that any such provisions would not be applied in a way that violated existing trade agreements. And he has backed away from his campaign comments to such an extent that he almost sounded like an apostle of free trade during last week’s visit to Canada, which is by far America’s largest trading partner.

But Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper still couldn’t resist a characteristically Canadian understatement on the foolishness of protectionism.

“If we pursue stimulus packages the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves,” Harper said, “or to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it.”

President Obama sought to reassure Canadians, who along with Europeans have been vocally unhappy about the “Buy American” provision, while throwing a small bone to some of his more protectionist supporters.

“Now is a time where we’ve got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism,” he said, and bemoaned a “strong impulse” in many countries to pursue beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

He assured Harper that “I want to grow trade, not contract it.”

He also said, however, that while now was not the time, he would still seek ways to keep campaign promises to toughen labor and environmental standards imposed on foreign countries in trade agreements.

The Buy American kerfuffle is not the only issue that could cause friction between the U.S. and Canada in the next few years. Canada has up to 173 billion barrels of recoverable oil in vast tracts of what are called oil sands. The U.S. is already the biggest importer of Canadian oil, and one might think it would have an interest in reducing dependency on Middle Eastern oil and buying more from a friendly neighbor. But some environmental groups want to restrict such trade unless Canada imposes onerous new regulations on oil recovery operations.

Whether or not President Obama is personally simpatico with