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Earlier this month, people across the United States and many other countries paused to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the terrorist strikes on September 11, 2001.
It’s often said that hard times reveal true friends.
That was certainly the case on 9-11. Canadians responded immediately and instinctively to the need for help.
Within 45 minutes of the attacks in New York City and Washington, airports across Canada began accepting planes that had been diverted from U.S. airspace. In all, 224 diverted planes and more than 33,000 passengers and crew sought shelter and comfort in communities stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In the town of Gander, Newfoundland – population 10,000 – locals opened their doors and their hearts to more than 7,000 stranded passengers, whose planes sat lined up on the tarmac for the better part of a week.
In my hometown, Ottawa, 100,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill three days after the attacks to mourn the loss of life. Across the country, Canadians came together to honour the victims and show solidarity with our American friends.
I was Canada’s Foreign Minister at that time. Some of you will recall that our Prime Minister appointed me to chair a new Cabinet Committee on Public Security and Anti-Terrorism. Our mandate was to strengthen all aspects of Canada’s approach to fighting terrorism and ensuring public security.
Together, our countries faced many challenges in the days and months after 9-11. One of them was how to preserve and protect the largest and most successful trading relationship in the history of humanity. Many millions of jobs on both sides of the border depended on that economic partnership, and of course they still do.
Fortunately, the level of cooperation between our two governments was nothing short of superb.
In December of 2001, Governor Tom Ridge and I met and signed a 30-point action plan, the Smart Border Declaration. In it, we committed our governments to working together as partners to enhance border security while facilitating the legitimate flow of people and goods.
The speed with which we were able to act demonstrates something we tend to take for granted. The United States and Canada aren’t just friends and neighbours. Our relationship goes far beyond the trading of goods and services.
We have been close allies and partners in the defense of freedom through two world wars and in conflicts ranging from Korea to Afghanistan.
That history, and that legacy, stood us in good stead in the weeks and months after 9-11. Our governments moved swiftly and in close coordination to enhance border security while facilitating the legitimate flow of people and goods.
And then, after implementing the Smart Border Action Plan, public officials and policy experts outside government began to wrestle with some of the longer term questions surrounding the U.S.-Canada partnership in this new, more security-conscious era.
I was part of one of those exercises. In 2004, a year after I retired from the Parliament of Canada, I agreed to co-chair a tri-national Task Force on the Future of North America, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.
My fellow co-chairs were Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts Governor, and Pedro Aspe, former Mexican Secretary of Finance. Our task force included an array of respected and experienced policy leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Among the Americans were Carla Hills, former U.S. Trade Representative under President Ronald Reagan; Gordon Giffin, President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Canada, and Heidi Cruz, former economic policy adviser to President George W. Bush.
This was a serious, thoughtful and – in the American context – bipartisan group of individuals.
Here’s some of what our task force ultimately recommended when our report came out in 2005:
As I said, that was in 2005. And I’ll let you in on a secret: none of it has come to pass. Perhaps it never will.
As a task force, we all did what we were asked to do. We thought long and hard about the best approach to strengthening our three economies and enhancing our collective ability to compete in a rapidly changing global economy.
But we didn’t count on guys like Lou Dobbs. On his nightly CNN show, Lou effectively declared war on our report, calling it an attack on U.S. sovereignty.
Bizarrely, he accused us of pushing to establish something called “the North American Union” – a place where middle-class wages would be driven down to Mexican levels, borders and border security would cease to exist, and terrorists would run amok.
At the time, many people dismissed Lou Dobbs as a crank. Personally I couldn’t imagine that any serious person would ever buy into his wild-eyed conspiracy theories.
But they did. And slowly but surely, the populist crusade against trade and trade agreements like NAFTA has swept across the American political landscape, to the point where elected officials are now afraid to speak in favour of sensible, beneficial pro-trade policies.
It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad, and so harmful to our economies.
I’ll give you just one example of the lunacy that now surrounds this issue.
I mentioned that Heidi Cruz was one of the members of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on the Future of North America. Heidi Cruz had served in the White House under Condoleezza Rice and as Special Assistant to the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick.
She had also worked on George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. In fact, it was while campaigning for Bush in Texas that she met her future husband, Ted Cruz.
Heidi Cruz was an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations from 2005 until 2011. In that same year, 2011, Ted Cruz threw his hat in the ring for the junior Senate seat in Texas. At one point during a campaign appearance, someone in the crowd asked him for his opinion of the Council on Foreign Relations.
You can see the video on YouTube. Ted Cruz rises out of his chair, grabs the mike and denounces the CFR as “a pernicious nest of snakes” that is “working to undermine our sovereignty”. He actually compared the CFR to Sharia law in terms of the danger it posed to American sovereignty.
I just shake my head. I mean, really?
So where am I going with all this? It’s really pretty simple. For a long time, but particularly since 9-11, those of us in this room, and many others, have been working to modernize the U.S.-Canada border.
To make it smarter and more efficient.
To eliminate some of the unnecessary costs associated with moving goods back and forth across the border – costs that do nothing for our security, but that penalize businesses, burden consumers and erode North American competitiveness.
But over the past decade, the ground has shifted beneath our feet.
Today, trade is practically a dirty word. If you’re an American who is running for office, you’re taking your political life in your hands to speak in positive terms about the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And that’s a problem, because if you think trade is harmful to your economy, you’re probably not going to put much effort into improving the efficiency of North American supply chains.
If you believe that the United States/Canada/Mexico partnership under NAFTA is a danger to American jobs and growth, you’ll be looking to build walls, not bridges.
Now, I really didn’t come here to talk about the current presidential election campaign. It’s always risky, if not rude, to comment on someone else’s politics.
But as someone who believes deeply in the benefits of trade and the importance of continental cooperation, I’ve found it painful to listen to some of the things that have been said in this election cycle – by candidates on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.
According to this new narrative, America always loses at trade and trade agreements pose a threat to the U.S. economy. As a high school debater I was taught that if you grant my premise, I can win any debate. Well, this premise is wrong, and it should not be permitted to become conventional wisdom.
If the anti-trade rhetoric is correct, how do we account for the significant and demonstrable increase in jobs and prosperity that has accompanied the growth in cross-border and international trade?
The reality is that the United States is the world’s largest and most successful trading nation, with exports generating well over $2 trillion a year, supporting an estimated 11.3 million jobs. And, by the way, those jobs pay significantly more than the national average wage.
Of all the things I learned in during my years in government, one of the most important is the need to base major policy decisions on sound factual analysis – not uninformed opinion.
And the facts simply do not support the charge that trade has killed jobs.
Nor do they support the notion that agreements like NAFTA are bad for American workers.
On the contrary, I would argue that NAFTA’s supply chains help to preserve employment in the face of competition from other countries and regions with which there are no bilateral or regional trade agreements.
Allow me to quote from an excellent report published this week that analyzes the trade policies of both leading presidential candidates. It was published by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a respected nonpartisan think-tank:
“Make no mistake, the proposed trade policies of both Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the 2016 Democratic and Republican Party candidates for president, would deeply harm the American economy. Furthermore, they would primarily hurt average American households on modest incomes, and especially many of the individuals and communities that were already hard hit by the crisis. Curbing trade will worsen rather than solve the problem of American income stagnation by reducing families’ purchasing power, and by further slowing productivity growth.”
Ladies and gentlemen, trade is a fact of life. Trade agreements create written rules that everyone can agree upon – rules that are transparent and enforceable to a degree.
In this election season, a lot of people have been talking about the need for policies to help struggling working families.
Millions of Americans – particularly low-skilled workers with no more than a high school diploma – feel let down and left behind. And that has given rise to frustration and anger.
I get it. But we need to be careful not to blame factors like NAFTA that have nothing to do with the reality facing dislocated American workers – a reality that to a large extent has been driven by rapid technological change and the rise of emerging economies.
Protectionism is not the answer. Our governments tried that in the 1930s. I don’t need to remind you how it turned out.
In his 1988 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan had this to say about the benefits of free trade:
“One of the greatest contributions the United States can make to the world is to promote freedom as the key to economic growth. A creative, competitive America is the answer to a changing world, not trade wars that would close doors, create greater barriers, and destroy millions of jobs.”
It was President Reagan who, with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, pushed for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which in turn set the stage for NAFTA. But that kind of strong leadership and commitment to free markets is in desperately short supply today.
So the message I want to leave you with is this: If our shared goal is to enhance two-way commerce and improve border management, we need to speak out forcefully about the benefits of trade.
And we need to do it now, because if we allow the anti-trade narrative to go unchallenged, our economies and our citizens are going to pay a heavy price.