CANADIAN-U.S. relations are currently in a rocky patch. It is hard to say whether the visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to America s northern neighbor has helped or hurt.
For one thing, Ms. Rice took a long time to get there, finally visiting Canada after more than eight months in office, following visits to nearly every place else. More importantly, there are a stack of unresolved issues between the two countries, some of which Canada feels very strongly about.
The first of these is U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood exports to the United States. They are substantial; the Canadians claim that they add $1,000 to the price of every new American building that contains wood. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, like it or not, such tariffs are forbidden, considered inconsistent with the accord s free-trade provisions.
Nonetheless, the United States collects the tariffs, claiming, with some truth, that the Canadian government provides subsidies to its lumber producers. The real reason for the U.S. tariffs is to enable the Bush Administration to continue to throw a large bone to U.S. timber companies, who are large contributors to campaign finance chests.
Protective tariffs constitute government subsidies to American producers.
NAFTA authorities have ruled against the United States in the case, but rather than respect the NAFTA judgment, the United States took the matter to the World Trade Organization, asking for a ruling in its favor. The Canadians are mightily annoyed, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, generally considered pro-American.
Ms. Rice, rising to the bait in a press conference, said that the Canadians should stop talking about the issue in apocalyptic language, in effect, telling them, unhelpfully, that the issue isn t as important as they think. The Canadians estimate that the U.S. tariffs have cost them several billion dollars so far, a sum not to be sniffed at, although small potatoes in the overall U.S.-Canadian trade of $400 billion a year. Canada and the United States are each other s largest trading partner.
Another sore point: Canadian claims that the relaxed U.S. approach to gun sales is permitting weapons to flow across the border into Canada, where the laws are tighter, pushing up the Canadian gun crime rate.
All in all, the list of problem areas in U.S.-Canadian relations does not appear to have been shortened by the secretary s visit.
No useful purpose is served by the United States snapping at the Canadians, or by stiffing them to favor some U.S. special interest, particularly when that policy, in the end, costs the U.S. consumer money.