Friday, April 28, 2006

So Much for NAFTA

Jeffrey Simpson says "Free trade in lumber was never an option" in defending the controversial deal made between the Canadian and American governments over Canadian exports of softwood lumber:

Of course, the United States acted badly in the softwood lumber file. Of course, it ignored NAFTA rulings it did not like, thereby bringing the legitimacy of the entire agreement into question. Of course, the U.S. collected illegal and outrageous duties under the so-called Byrd Amendment. Of course, a group of U.S. legislators and one powerful lobby group obstructed progress. Of course, the U.S. acted like a bully in this file.


...[A]ll the posturing Canada could muster -- and it could muster a lot -- would not change the essence of the U.S. position that no free trade in lumber could or would exist. And full free trade still won't be in the deal announced yesterday.

It didn't matter how many favourable North American free-trade agreement rulings. It didn't matter how much Canadian speechifying. It didn't matter how much Canadian lobbying. There wasn't going to be free trade in lumber. There wasn't free trade in the original Canada-U.S. deal, and there wouldn't ever be...

...This deal, it is true, rewards bad U.S. behaviour. It does signal that U.S. interests can twist and ignore NAFTA. It does repay a certain extortion by allowing the U.S. to keep some of the tariff money it collected. And it is managed, not free, trade.

But the deal brings peace at a reasonable price, provides stability, meets the test of what was possible under the circumstances, and should therefore be supported.
Free trade for thee, but not for me, huh? Good to know that Beijing was apparently right after all in spurning the "Washington Consensus". Certainly Washington itself has proven that it isn't exactly enamored of free trade, so much as free access to markets for its exporters, and protected markets for everybody else.

Really, this isn't about softwood lumber... it isn't even about Canada and the United States. It's about whether or not treaties and international law are worth the paper they're written on. It would appear that the answer is "hell no", at least for the United States. The Canadians will doubtlessly remember that when their oil and water resources become valuable enough... but the key question is whether anybody will be willing to bother with "free trade" deals now. If the US won't honor them, why the hell should anybody else?

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