President Obama And PM Harper On NAFTA

One of the more interesting exchanges in today's press conference with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper was the discussion of trade, NAFTA and the Buy American provisions in the stimulus. On the flip is the pertinent excerpts:

Q Thank you, to both of you. I've got a question for both of you. Mr. President, on Tuesday you said that now is not the time to reopen NAFTA. But your aides said that you would be trying to convince our friends in Canada and in Mexico of the rightness of your position. So, first, did you convince our friends in Canada? And when is the right time to incorporate labor and environmental standards into the main body of NAFTA?

Second, for Prime Minister Harper. Mr. Prime Minister, is there a way for a "Buy American" provision to be compliant with the U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, Jonathan, I'm not sure that was my exact quote. I always get a little nervous about responding to quotes without me actually seeing it. I think what I said was, is that now is a time where we've got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism, because, as the economy of the world contracts, I think there's going to be a strong impulse on the part of constituencies in all countries to see if we -- they can engage in "beggar thy neighbor" policies. 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.

Having said that, what I also indicated was that with a NAFTA agreement that has labor provisions and environmental provisions as side agreements, it strikes me if those side agreements mean anything then they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreement so that they can be effectively enforced. And I think it is important, whether we're talking about our relationships with Canada or our relationships with Mexico, that all countries concerned are thinking about how workers are being treated and all countries concerned are thinking about environmental issues of the sort that Emmanuelle just raised earlier.

So, you know, I raised this issue with Prime Minister Harper. My hope is, is that as our advisors and staffs and economic teams work this through, that there's a way of doing this that is not disruptive to the extraordinarily important trade relationships that exist between the United States and Canada.

Now you didn't ask me about the "Buy American" provisions, but since it relates to our recovery package, let me just reiterate -- and I said this very clearly before the bill was passed and before I signed it -- that I think it was very important to make sure that any provisions that were there were consonant with our obligations under WTO and NAFTA. And I think that is what we achieved. I recognize the concerns of Canada, given how significant trade with the United States is to the Canadian economy. I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it. And I don't think that there was anything in the recovery package that is adverse to that goal.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER: I'll answer both questions, as well. First of all, I just think it's important to reiterate that since NAFTA came into force, and more importantly since Canada signed its free trade agreement with the United States in 1988, trade agreements between our two countries have been nothing but beneficial for these two countries. There has been a massive explosion of trade. It was already the biggest trading relationship in the world; it's so much bigger now. And that trade supports, you know, countless millions of jobs.

And I don't think we should also forget the leadership that was established in that. You know, this was about the end of the Cold War, and Canada and the U.S. signed the first modern generation trade agreement that really started -- started the proliferation of these types of agreements, which really gave us the growth of the global economy.

Now, you know, I know some aspects of trade invariably cause political concerns, but nobody should think for a minute that trade between Canada and the United States is anything but a benefit between the two of us. And quite frankly, the trade challenges we face are common trade challenges. The trade challenges we face in North America are common trade challenges; they're not problems between our countries.

So I just think it's always important to keep this in mind. The President and I did have a good discussion of his concerns. You know, our position is that we're -- we're perfectly willing to look at ways we can -- we can address some of these concerns, which I understand, without, you know, opening the whole NAFTA and unraveling what is a very complex agreement. But we had a good discussion on that and I think -- I'm hopeful we'll be able to make some progress.

On -- on the "Buy American" provisions -- and let's also be very clear, as well, that in both WTO and NAFTA, there are -- there are industries and there are ways in which and there are levels of government at which one can have domestic preferences and purchasing policies. These things are allowed, in some cases, but they are certainly not allowed without limit. We expect the United States to adhere to its -- to its international obligations. I have every expectation, based on what the President has told me and what he's said publicly many times in the past, that the United States will do just that.

But I can't emphasize how important it is that we do that. We have agreed in Canada and, you know, all the major countries of the world through the G20, we agreed to pursue economic stimulus measures -- not just to stimulate our own economies, but to recognize that we have a synchronized global recession that requires policies that will not just benefit ourselves but benefit our trading partners at the same time. If we pursue stimulus packages, the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves or to benefit ourselves, worse, at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it.

So I think it's critical that the United States has been a leader for a long time in the goals of an open global economy. I think it's critical that that -- that that leadership continue. And I'm -- I'm quite confident that the United States will respect those obligations and continue to be a leader on the need for globalized trade.

If I could just comment on our stimulus package, one of the things we did in our stimulus package was actually remove duties on some imported goods. Part of the reason we did that, it's in our own economic interest, but also, as well, it will help stimulate continental and global trade. And this is important for our recovery. We know as a small economy we can't recover without recovery in the United States and recovery around the world. But that's true for all of us these days.

A lot of blather I think, with no action promised. As a free trader, I am pleased.

Speaking for me only

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  • Display: Sort:
    Great diary (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Steve M on Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 08:50:54 PM EST
    here on other aspects of the trip to Canada.

    Thanks, Steve (5.00 / 0) (#16)
    by daring grace on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 11:30:03 AM EST
    Love reading about these things from the standpoint of the people in the country that's being visited.

    I enjoyed this article where the Canadians (amusedly) critiqued the American coverage of Canada and then reported on American coverage of Canadian coverage...(yeah, it gets tangled!)


    Free trade, as currently practiced... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Dadler on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 01:43:05 AM EST
    ...is nothing but another bubble waiting to burst.  It is based on the assumption that certain kinds of jobs belong in certain kinds of countries so that better jobs can replace them in better kinds of countries.  It is like all those folks who bought houses they couldn't afford on the assumption the house would keep going up in value forever.  Jobs, like those houses, are not forever.  In fact, houses, at least as physical things, remain to be used in some form later.  Jobs, as intangible things, go and leave nothing in their wake but absence.

    If free trade were first and foremost about full employment for people everywhere, at more than a living wage, then I could buy it.  As it is, free trade is based on the same lottery paradigm as most other economic illusions.  If it only benefits the few, those few cannot hold it up and it collapses.  

    I cannot stop remembering Obama's little (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by suzieg on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 04:41:52 AM EST
    pamphlets accusing Clinton for passing NAFTA = loss jobs in PA and Ohio... it really angers me to listen to him now re: benefits of NAFTA to both countries!

    Condemning the "Buy American" (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by esmense on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:50:24 AM EST
    provision is not the same thing as supporting free trade. And supporting "buy American," is in no way the same thing as not supporting free trade. As Harper said, "let's also be very clear, as well, that in both WTO and NAFTA, there are -- there are industries and there are ways in which and there are levels of government at which one can have domestic preferences and purchasing policies. These things are allowed..."

    Some people seem to think that free trade, or "leadership" on free trade, is the US giving away the store.

    The fact is, we don't have a single sophisticated trading partner, including Canada, that doesn't take measures to protect workers and industries they consider key (to their economic health) with domestic preferences and purchasing policies. The notion that we can get those countries to make deals that go against what they conceive as their best interest by acting as if we have no interests to protect at all is daft.

    I support free trade. I support smart negotiating that is mindful of American's real long term interests. I just don't support dumb trade deals and policies or people who think free trade means we just throw up our hands and negotiate away our economic future.

    The reaction (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by cal1942 on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 05:24:55 PM EST
    to the 'buy American' provisions by knee jerk free-traders is discouraging in a time when it's abundantly clear the the "benefits" of free trade have bypassed a very large segment of the population.

    Former trade negotiator Robert Cassidy explains here that other governments, as you highlight, are far more protective of the interests of their citizens.

    We are unique in allowing our own people to take it in the back side for the sake of a few multi-national corporations and the finance industry.


    Obama at least (none / 0) (#1)
    by ai002h on Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 07:41:14 PM EST
    mentioned the environmental and labor provisions being enforced. Frankly, I was surprised he mentioned that.

    Environmental activist protests Obama visit (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 08:20:41 PM EST
    Nice country you've got there, shame if something happened to it. Here it is, from CanWest News:
    The U.S. is eyeing Alberta's oilsands as a secure source of energy, compared with less stable supplies from the Middle East or Venezuela, but is concerned with their environmental impact because they create three times the level of carbon emissions as conventional oil.

    Protests against the oilsands reached a fever pitch in Ottawa on Wednesday as environmental groups expressed fear that Alberta's energy industry would be exempted from tougher regulations in a future climate-change accord.

    One of two giant banners Greenpeace activists hung on the Alexandra Bridge just behind Parliament Hill declared "Climate Leaders Don't Buy Tar Sands."

    More than 50 prominent Canadians signed an open letter urging Obama to recognize the environmental and social costs of U.S. reliance on the Alberta oilsands.

    Thanin, enough with the troll ratings (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 11:45:16 AM EST
    Do you have a point of disagreement with my tone, or with the content of the article I cited from CanWest News: which reported that Canadian environmentalists had protested Obama's visit - specifically his intent to tap Alberta's tar sand pits which will generate 3 times the level of emissions as conventional oil?

    If you have a proble, please give us your opposing perspective.

    You violate site rules when you just go around giving troll ratings to news and opinions you don't like.


    Well... (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Thanin on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 05:33:17 PM EST
    I might say more, but since you wont ever read another post of mine, whats the point?

    Yes, It's True. (none / 0) (#2)
    by SOS on Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 07:48:26 PM EST
    Peanut Butter Corporation of America Was "Certified Organic" by Your Inattentive, Inactive, Elected Representatives.

    Salmonella poisoining has nothing to (5.00 / 0) (#11)
    by samtaylor2 on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:11:31 AM EST
    Do with Organic or not organic.  In fact, poisoning the sh$%$t out of food kills bacteria like salmonella, it just has other potential carcinogenic properties and spreads antibiotic resistant bacteria.    

    What do you want to bet (none / 0) (#7)
    by BernieO on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 07:35:32 AM EST
    that this will be spun as proof that organic is dangerous.

    Organic is very dangerous (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Steve M on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 07:47:03 AM EST
    to your household budget...

    Nah, Odwalla would have done that (none / 0) (#12)
    by Inspector Gadget on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:35:24 AM EST
    if it was going to be possible to taint a widely used process because of one product.

    The only place where I shop organic (none / 0) (#9)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 09:40:27 AM EST
    specifically is my own vegetable garden.  If I buy at Costco and their only choice is organic, I buy it.  Otherwise, I buy the least expensive best quality.

    The "certified organic" label is just as open to potential corruption as any other government program.  

    It's just another way to charge more and it's potentially a scam.  And the peanut butter example is proof of this!


    Obama's kind of (none / 0) (#10)
    by SOS on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:07:22 AM EST
    disappointing. You can spew all the marketing slogans on earth but if you don't motivate, excite, and get people moving you've pretty much failed.

    He manages one of those traits (none / 0) (#13)
    by Inspector Gadget on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:41:16 AM EST
    He gets many people excited....

    Sure (none / 0) (#15)
    by SOS on Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 10:54:26 AM EST
    but being excited and ACTING are two different things.

    Soon or later you got to get up off the bench and get in the game. One can sit there and listen to pep talk all day and not accomplish anything.