Thursday, February 19, 2009
Obama promises open trade with Canada
Sure, U.S. President Barack Obama's first trip out of the country would be news, in and of itself, and it was. Obama's choice of Canada as his first overseas destination since assuming the presidency last month restored an old White House tradition that had been ignored by George W. Bush. But if U.S. residents were hoping for some sort of breakthrough in relations with Canada, they were disappointed. Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper accomplished nothing besides restating some old bromides about protectionism that surely ring hollow in the competitive world economy. The United States and Canada are too co-dependent on trade, defense and policy to have serious disagreements. The fact that Obama specifically discussed protectionism with Canada, according to the Reuters international news service, may have been reassuring to the Canadian people but truly had no bearing on the issue. If the United States does decide to begin a withdrawal from the free trade policies of past governments, and Obama assured Ottawa it will not, Canada would certainly be included in whatever new economic grouping replaces the free trade regime. "Now is a time where we have to be very careful about any signals of protectionism," Obama told reporters after several hours of talks with Harper on his one-day visit to Ottawa, Reuters said. "And as obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries." Likewise, Harper said he thought the United States would continue to hold up its end of the free trade bargain. "I'm quite confident that the United States will respect those obligations and continue to be a leader on the need for globalized trade," he said. Harper also said he would consider strengthening environmental and labor provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Obama asked for, but said he did not support renegotiating the entire agreement, as Obama has proposed. The U.S. and Canada did announced that they would begin to collaborate on environmentally friendly energy technologies to help develop coal and oil sands resources with less pollution. Perhaps notably, Obama did not ask Canada to expand its military presence in Afghanistan, where it has 2,700 troops in support of NATO. Canada plans to withdraw its troops in 2011, Reuters said.