Friday, February 06, 2009

History of Free Trade

I've been writing columns for The Beaver a long time now, which means that for a couple of decades I've been blessed with an excuse for routinely calling up historians out of the blue and asking if I could interview them at some length about their works and their interests.

One of the very first of those conversations came back as I was following recent press coverage of the "Buy American" clauses of the American stimulus package and the glum realization among Canadians that Free Trade or no, the Americans were going to close their borders to Canadian competition whenever it suited their purposes. We can send people to Washington to beg for favours, but that is hardly "free" "trade."

That early conversation -- November 1990, I see -- was with Jack Granatstein. Free Trade was still quite new in 1990, and we discussed his quite prominent role as a sceptic and critic. His words come back in the new context:
Mulroney set out three conditions sine qua non -- a binding disputes settlement mechanism, a definition of what constituted a subsidy, and absolute protection for social programs. They're all essential, and he got none of them.
Seems to me Jack had his finger on it, though it's the first two that are pertinent right now.

We do have a free trade agreement, but given the nature of the agreement, it is one the Americans have been able to ignore with near-impunity. Under the settlement process, Canada can win every tribunal, but we still don't get access.

And well informed observers (and participants) knew that going in.
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