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Saturday, 12 January 2008

Fortress America

US's Alarming Canadian Border-Jamming Policies,

or Why Not Build a Moat Around the Whole-Damned Place?

Lawrence Martin
From Monday's Globe and Mail

30 December 2007

In a pre-Christmas interview, International Trade Minister David Emerson issued a warning and a plea. The warning? The security clampdown at the Canada-U.S. border is undermining trade and threatening the two countries' special ties. The plea? The U.S. has to "recommit to the North American relationship. … Somebody at the high level has to say it's time that this stopped."

The minister's outburst signalled how disturbing the raft of new border barricades: the fees, the inspections, the passports are becoming. "You get this absolute supremacy of security trumping everything," Mr. Emerson told The Globe and Mail's Steven Chase. He said he was hearing one border horror story after another. It used to be a "just in time" supply chain, he said. Now it's more like "just in case." He described the mindsets of Washington's security overlords as "rigid" and threatening to "the special relationship."

The border-jamming policies have come at the worst of times. The rising Canadian dollar has already hit our exports hard. The declining American economy will further dampen bilateral trade. On top of that is the rightful concern that this country hasn't developed alternative markets to cope with a decline in bilateral trade.
With China and India, the ascendant big powers, we do little business. With Brazil and Russia, it's essentially the same. With the European Union, we're squeezed out. On the question of national champions, we haven't as the hollowing-out theorists have noted got any. What we do have is a commodities boom, and that can't last forever.
It is therefore easy to understand why Mr. Emerson is sounding the alarm. His strong wording, given the way our government operates, probably had Prime Minister Stephen Harper's blessing, which is a good thing.

Our ambassador in Washington, Michael Wilson, needs to be heard from as well. In Mr. Wilson's day in Ottawa, when he was finance minister in the Mulroney government, Allan Gotlieb was at large in Washington. Mr. Gotlieb was famous for having half the Ronald Reagan cabinet over for cocktails every fortnight. "Whenever Reagan found someone missing from a cabinet meeting," wrote Allan Fotheringham, "he'd phone Gotlieb's chef to check the table setting."

That kind of lobbying is needed now. What must be galling for Ottawa is the timing of the American measures. The 9/11 calamity was more than six years ago. There hasn't been a terrorist hit on this continent since. But, while the calm has ensued, the border barricades have risen. Reverse logic.

Catching wind of Mr. Emerson's reproach, David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, brushed it off, saying the headlines should be boasting of bilateral trade's high numbers without any security incidents. "We don't talk about the good news," he said.

The good news?

In March, having undercut the spirit of the free-trade agreement with its hard-line antics during the softwood lumber dispute, Washington, bidding to impose more costs on our lumber producers, issued a formal complaint alleging unfair conduct by Ottawa and the provinces.

In April, the U.S. scuppered a pilot project that would have seen customs inspections conducted well before crossing the border, saving important time. In June, Washington levied new border taxes and inspections for trucks and railway cars from Canada. In November, a Transport Canada report put the cost of anti-terror security measures to our transportation industry at half a billion dollars.

We should hardly be astonished that David Emerson isn't talking about the good news. The mindset south of the border doesn't change. In the wake of 9/11, some initially chose to blame our porous border. They were proved wrong. We brought in anti-terrorist measures, but they weren't enough.

With the news from Pakistan, the "absolute supremacy," as Mr. Emerson put it, of the American security apparatus will hardly be diminished. The minister's pleas for reason to prevail at the border will fall on deaf ears. Our troubling trade situation will be further aggravated. We're not Pakistan, but that doesn't matter.