No trade agreement is necessary for a government to adopt this ideal policy [true free trade]. And because real-world trade agreements universally fail to achieve complete free trade, real-world trade agreements are universally less than ideal. Each such agreement can and should be criticized for failing to achieve an ideal that is economically not only possible, but easily economically possible and immensely beneficial.
But political realities being unavoidable – and freer trade being superior to not-freer trade – freer trade is an acceptable real-world outcome. In my assessment (as in the assessment of many others), most so-called free-trade agreements make trade freer. (A more-accurate name for them would be “freer-trade agreements.”) And for this reason such agreements deserve the support of proponents of free markets if the only plausible option is the status quo of not-freer trade.
For free-market proponents to oppose freer trade because it isn’t fully free trade is akin to opposing cuts in marginal tax rates because the proposed cuts don’t eliminate taxes altogether. It’s akin to opposing legalization of marijuana if not all drugs are legalized. Or akin to a refusal to join with, or to support, those who oppose raising the minimum wage on the grounds that those opponents aren’t actively working for a complete abolition of minimum wages.
It is true that NAFTA, WTO agreements, TPP, and other such bilateral and multilateral freer-trade agreements leave in place many trade barriers and specify the always-too-slow timing of tariff reductions. But these arrangements are no more instruments of “managed trade” than are government policies that prohibit the sale of some drugs, sex, and body organs – and impose taxes on the sales of all other goods, – instruments of “managed consumption.” While I argue for eliminating all of these promotions and taxes, if such elimination isn’t politically feasible, then any move to reduce the number of prohibitions and the rate of taxation will make market freer and, hence, worthy of the support of proponents of free markets.
Don Boudreaux, “Bonus Quotation of the Day…”, Café Hayek, 2016-11-22.
April 20, 2017
February 8, 2017
Stephen Gordon says it’s a dangerous fantasy to think that the Canadian economy could cope with a Prime Minister who tries to “get tough” over Il Donalduce‘s trade concerns:
Pierre Trudeau once described the Canadian relationship with the United States as “like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” It is now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bad luck – and ours – to be bunking down with a surly and irascible elephant.
It’s worth dwelling on just how asymmetric the economic relationship is between Canada and the United States. It’s sometimes pointed out that Canada is the largest market for U.S. exports, and that’s true as far as it goes. But U.S. dependence on the Canadian export market is an order of magnitude smaller than Canadian dependence on exports to the U.S. Exports of goods and services to the U.S. accounted for 22.8 per cent of Canadian GDP in 2015; U.S. exports to Canada were only 1.9 per cent of U.S. GDP.
There’s not much that could or should have been done to reduce this dependence on the U.S. market. All the factors that determine the volume of trade flows — physical proximity, market size, linguistic and cultural ties, similar legal systems and so forth — all point to the U.S. It’s always been a good idea to promote trade links with other countries, but the U.S. would still be our dominant export market even in a world in which the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were already in place.
So it really doesn’t make sense to think that a Canadian Prime Minister can “stand up” and “fight back” against U.S. sanctions, or that Canada’s bargaining position would be somehow strengthened if another person were running the government. The trade numbers would still be the same.
December 11, 2016
Ted Campbell is in favour of bringing NAFTA up-to-date and reminds us that there’s another diplomatic item that could use modernization at the same time:
In my opinion, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or the next Conservative leader is really interested in restoring Canada to a leading position in real, practical, long term peacekeeping then (s)he will abandon the United Nations and, instead, turn Canada into a free trade powerhouse by dropping our remaining protectionist measures, as Maxime Bernier and Colin Robertson both advocate, and making deals with all comers. And it is important to remember that “deals” involve two sides and both sides must gain something which means that both sides probably “give” something, too, and that produces short term “losers” and it is politically important to try to “soften” the transition for those who are bound to lose in the short term. But, in the mid to long term most losses are “covered” by gains in new products and services and the utilitarian goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” is achieved … most of the time.
One of the things Colin Robertson mentioned was shipbuilding and it leads me to consider that one of the things we want to renew if or when we must renegotiate NAFTA is the Defence development sharing agreement between Canada and the United States of America. The stated objective of the existing (since 1963) agreement are:
- To assist in maintaining the Defense Production Sharing Program at a high level by making it possible for Canadian firms to perform research and development work undertaken to meet the requirements of U.S. armed forces.
- To utilize better the industrial scientific and technical resources of the United States and Canada in the interest of mutual defense.
- To make possible the standardization and interchangeability of a larger amount of the equipment necessary for the defense of United States and Canada.
The Defence Production Sharing Program is, too often, hamstrung by US (and Canadian) protectionist measures and it needs to be brought more fully into the area of bilateral free trade. I am not suggesting that the Pentagon would ever let, say, a significant shipbuilding contract to a Canadian yard but it must be possible for Canadian shipyards and factories and service providers to bid on US defence contracts on at least a “near equal” basis and vice-versa, of course. This, free(er) trade in defence materiel and services is one area where we, North Americans, can learn from the Europeans. I am not suggesting that Canada should abandon the idea of having a national defence industrial base but, rather, that we should have a base that fits, neatly, into a larger continental base that is, somehow, connected to other allied defence production systems.
So, broadly, when (if) President elect Trump says he wants to renegotiate NAFTA we should, indeed, say “bring it on!” But we should go into negotiations with our eyes wide open, prepared to surrender some “losers,” as good bridge players do, in order to finesse some winners for ourselves.
November 24, 2016
All governments at every level waste money. It’s one of the things that governments do far better than the private sector. Yet the Ontario provincial government takes wasting money to a state of near perfection in their Wolfe Island offshore wind farm dealings:
In 2010, the government of Ontario, keen to jumpstart its green energy sector, signed a 20-year deal to buy 300 megawatts of electricity from turbines that the New York investors behind Windstream agreed to erect.
Things got messy mere months later in February 2011 when the provincial Liberals, fearing they would lose an election, slapped a moratorium on offshore wind projects, none of which had ever been built. Around the same time, Ontario cancelled two unpopular natural gas power plants, a move that cost provincial taxpayers about $1 billion.
After waiting five years to get approval to build their wind turbines, Mars and his group lost their patience.
“I have a group of very high-net-worth individuals who invest across energy and technology,” Mars said in a series of interviews from his office in Manhattan. “The contract remains in force. We would like to either build it or come up with an amicable solution. We have gotten many mixed messages on this.”
They complained to the Permanent Court of Arbitration under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. A panel of three arbitrators heard the case in Toronto last February.
“The claimant’s claim that the respondent has failed to accord the claimant’s investments fair and equitable treatment in accordance with international law, contrary to Article 1105 of NAFTA, is granted,” the panel ruled last month.
Police are now apparently probing whether Ontario government employees broke the law when they deleted documents related to the offshore wind project. A source told the Financial Post that Mars will answer police questions in Toronto next week.
So, a billion dollars to cancel two natural gas power plants, then a paltry $28 million that the federal has to pay, as it’s the NAFTA signatory (and the total bill could go up to $568 million or more, with nothing actually being built). As the old saying has it, pretty soon you’re talking real money.
H/T to Ken Mcgregor for the link.
November 26, 2013
Richard Anderson notes the 25th anniversary of an almost forgotten Canadian crisis:
From the perspective of a quarter century the whole thing is almost inexplicable. It isn’t just that everything turned out well. The oddness of that time is how worked up people got about a trade agreement. Seriously. It’s an international trade agreement. The Harper Tories have signed quite a few, including an important deal with the EU. It’s barely headline news. But way back then it was the beginning of the end of Canada, if the good and great of the Canadian Cultural Establishment were to be believed.
Adding more distance to the passage of time is the demographic revolution that has taken place since, a revolution kicked into high gear by Mulroney not Trudeau. The Canada of 1988 was a much whiter and far more WASPish place than it is today. The Canadian WASP is an odd creature. Genial to a fault, decent, hard working and subdued in manner and lifestyle. He does, however, have one terrible weakness: A paranoid fear of the United States.
The Punjabi, the Vietnamese and the Filipino immigrant could not tell a Loyalist from a lolipop. The strange psycho-drama that has consumed the Canadian elite since Simcoe landed is now, mostly, over. The new Canadians have no fear of the old enemy America. There are no intergenerational flashbacks to the Battle of Queenston Heights. The Americans are just the loud neighbour to the south. It is not entirely coincidental that free trade was at last brought to Canada by an Irish Catholic, supported by a phalanx of Quebecois. Neither group ever really feared America. Among them there was never that nagging sense of imminent cultural absorption.
June 25, 2012
Free trade is the way to go, if you want to benefit the consumer. Producers don’t benefit as much: it increases their competition and means that bad producers are more likely to go out of business. Protectionists always rely on the visible “damage” that free trade does to these bad producers and minimize or completely ignore the (larger) benefits to consumers.
Jesse Kline explains why moving toward freer trade will benefit most Canadians, and the drawbacks will be to those who are least able or least willing to face real competition:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced this week that Canada will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, along with he United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and, we hope, Japan. Some say this will be a historic free trade deal that will extend the NAFTA zone into emerging Asian markets; others believe the United States is using the process to impose its own draconian copyright regime on its trading partners, while protecting key industries, such as auto manufacturers. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
The problem is that the agreement is being negotiated under a veil of heavy secrecy. And if rumours that the negotiated sections of the agreement already contain over 1,000 pages prove to be correct, it is certain that the TPP will not give us anything resembling real free trade. Indeed, the Canadian public has little idea about what we are getting ourselves into, or how much the government knew about what it was agreeing to. Based on a leaked chapter of the agreement, it looks as though we just signed up for an entirely new copyright regime, a mere hours after the government passed its own made-in-Canada solution.
To the government’s credit, it is simultaneously pursuing trade deals with the European Union and China. But in these times of global economic uncertainty, we need to see the benefits of trade sooner, rather than later. Free trade leads to higher standards of living, and benefits society through lower prices and increased variety of consumer goods; it forces domestic industries to be more efficient. Fortunately, there is another way to achieve these benefits: The Canadian government could open our borders to the world by unilaterally removing all our trade barriers.
April 4, 2012
A report on the “Three Amigos” meeting where President Barack Obama hosted President Felipe Calderon, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House:
Obama’s neglect of our nearest neighbors and biggest trade partners has created deteriorating relations, a sign of a president who’s out of touch with reality. Problems are emerging that aren’t being reported.
Fortunately, the Canadian and Mexican press told the real story. Canada’s National Post quoted former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson as saying the North American Free Trade Agreement and the three-nation alliance it has fostered since 1994 have been so neglected they’re “on life support.”
Energy has become a searing rift between the U.S. and Canada and threatens to leave the U.S. without its top energy supplier.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Obama the U.S. will have to pay market prices for its Canadian oil after Obama’s de facto veto of the Keystone XL pipeline. Canada is preparing to sell its oil to China.
Until now, NAFTA had shielded the U.S. from having to pay global prices for Canadian oil. That’s about to change.
Canada has also all but gone public about something trade watchers have known for a long time: that the U.S. has blocked Canada’s entry to the eight-way free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an alliance of the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, and Singapore. Both Canada and Mexico want to join and would benefit immensely.
So much for Canadian whingeing, right? Those snowback hosers are never happy. Relations with Mexico must be in better shape, yes? Uh, no:
Things were even worse, if you read the Mexican press accounts of the meeting.
Excelsior of Mexico City reported that President Felipe Calderon bitterly brought up Operation Fast and Furious, a U.S. government operation that permitted Mexican drug cartels to smuggle thousands of weapons into drug-war-torn Mexico. This blunder has wrought mayhem on Mexico and cost thousands of lives.
It’s fortunate for President Obama that the press is generally careful in their reporting … careful, that is, to avoid blaming Obama wherever possible.
Update: Ace has more on the unusually assertive Canadian position.
April 19, 2011
Stephen Gordon says that the additional costs to the Canadian economy for slower border crossings rival (or possibly even exceed) the savings due to NAFTA:
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Canada-U.S. trade flows: roughly one-quarter of what Canada produces is exported to the United States, and the volume of imports from the U.S. is only slightly smaller.
The increased border security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks may be only a minor irritant in the context of a single border crossing, but a small cost multiplied by a large number of crossings can still end up being a very big number. Even a small perturbation in trade flows of this magnitude can have a significant effect on the Canadian economy.
A recent study by Trien Nguyen of the University of Waterloo and Randy Wigle of Wilfrid Laurier University and published in the March 2011 issue of Canadian Public Policy provides some estimates for the economic costs of border crossing delays. These costs can be startlingly large, especially in the auto sector. Parts and subassemblies of cars produced in North America crisscross the border several times during production, so custom rules and border delays can add an extra $800 to the cost of production. In contrast, cars imported from overseas only have to pass through customs once.
November 5, 2009
In his November Frugal Oenophile newsletter, Richard Best looks at the evolution of that blight on the Ontario wine industry, the “Cellared in Canada” designation:
For some time (since 1973 in fact), Ontario wineries have been allowed to import juice or wine from other countries and then bottle it as their own. Bottles containing mostly foreign wine were originally labeled Product of Canada. Then in 1993 Product of Canada was replaced by Cellared in Canada (CIC). So, what you’ve been reading and hearing about lately is that people don’t get it, and that in an effort to support the local wine industry, they’ve been buying CIC wines and unknowingly underwriting wine factories in California, Chile and elsewhere.
Why Did This Come About
In the beginning, Niagara had thousands of hectares of north American Labrusca grapes the likes of Concord and Niagara and even one called President (“President Champagne” anyone?) When better grapes came along, the Ontario government encouraged growers to grub up their Labrusca vines and replant with French-American hybrids, mostly Vidal, Seyval Blanc, Marechal Foch, and Baco Noir. Then in 1989 the government launched another grubbing up program when some die-hard wineries started planting European Vinifera grapes: Chardonnay, the Cabernets, and especially Riesling. (It’s interesting to note that government experts insisted for decades that Vinifera vines could never succeed in Ontario.)
So, what do you do when you’ve ripped out your vineyard and now must wait 3-5 years to harvest grapes? The simplest solution is to allow wineries to import even more wine with which to “extend” their remaining harvest. Now, the original plan was to phase out the imported wine, with a “sunset” in the year 2000. But by then a few large wineries had shifted their business plan from Canadian fine wine to cheap and cheerful jug wines (but without the jug, at least). It’s pretty hard to change a law that has allowed a few companies to grow rich and dominate the market, so the plan was carved in stone . . . soapstone, as it turns out.
In 1993, when Canada signed the Free Trade Agreement, Ontario put a cap on the entire wine business. Only wineries establish before NAFTA would be allowed to import wine for blending. Moreover, only these wineries could own multiple site licenses. So we now have a two-tiered system: wineries that can do pretty much what they want, and those that can do little more than pay the bills.
It’s hard to pretend that it’s a level playing field for the domestic wine producers when there clearly are two distinct classes enshrined in law.
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August 17, 2009
Publius has some interesting insights into the evolution of the Canadian economy from highly dependent on regional conditions (that is, largely tied to US markets) to a more independent one:
What the FTA and NAFTA did was to help fundamentally restructure the Canadian economy over the last two decades. While economic nationalists warned of increased dependency on the American juggernaut, the exact opposite has happened. NAFTA in particular allowed Canada to follow the laws of comparative advantage, shifting our economy away from manufacturing toward services. Nations have historically traded with countries nearest to them due to obvious transaction costs. When the wealth of nations is increasingly intellectual (which includes figuring out how to extract natural resources), those transactional costs become nearly irrelevant. A service economy is one less dependent on trading with nearby partners, instead it can reach out to the world. Buoyed by Canada’s traditional strength in natural resources — fur, fish, timber, wheat and now oil — we have become to a surprising extent decoupled from the American economy. Even in bulk products like oil and minerals, our clients are increasingly global. There is a massive glut of cheap shipping — refer to the Baltic Dry Index — to take our natural bounty where ever customers beckon.
We weathered the 2001 American recession easily, and we are weathering this one rather well. Harper knows this. He knows Barack Obama is shackling and regulating the American economy into near term stagnation. In the past this would have proven disastrous for Canada, today it will be an advantage. For decades Britain and the City of London have proven a relative free market haven to international businesses seeking to invest in Europe. There is no reason Canada cannot, and will not, play that same role in North America. In a year or so Canada may very well be leading other OECD countries in economic growth, all while the American giant is stuck in a slow motion recovery. The Prime Minister’s moderately statist approach will seem to many voters as a work of pragmatic genius. Not too much intervention, not too little. Just right. Harper the Helmsman. More image than reality. Such is the game of politics.