BOWLING GREEN - Canada might be taken for granted by some U.S. citizens, but the neighbor to the north is the most important trading partner for the United States, southeast Michigan, and northwest Ohio.
And the feeling is mutual, with Canada importing most of its goods from the United States. "For 39 of the 50 states, Canada is the most important trading partner," said Maureen Appel Molot, author and professor of international affairs and political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. "Clearly, the trading relationship is intense. It's complicated and includes many different stakeholders."
The countries are stuck with each other as part of the three-country free trade zone created by NAFTA, and they enjoy the more-than $2 billion-a-day trading relationship, speakers at a symposium said yesterday.
The trading relationship and its nuances were fleshed out and discussed at an annual academic gathering at Bowling Green State University yesterday. The 18th annual Reddin Symposium, which focuses each year on Canadian studies, tackled the issue this year of international trade and Canada's place in the world and as younger, smaller brother to the United States.
Despite some clashing social values, Canadian citizens understand the importance of the trading relationship and do not have a problem with deepening that relationship, the speakers said yesterday, quoting research.
The speakers said the massive free trade between the countries was largely private enterprise and more important than any clashes over foreign policy or other issues that have come up lately.
Calls within Canada have always been for the country to diversify its exports, but to little avail, the professor said. Even as former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called for diversification, he pulled more out of European affairs, removing troops and decreasing contributions to NATO, Professor Molot said.
The deepening relationship is apparent in the statistics, she said.
From 1980 to 2002, the percent of Canada's gross domestic product exported to the United States increased from 60 percent to 87.7 percent. At the same time, exports to European countries have declined over the same period as imports from Mexico and China have increased.
Of the more than $2 billion a day in free trade that passes over the border, about 70 percent of it is by truck, the speakers said. The greatest challenges facing the relationship and the new Canadian government of Prime Minister Paul Martin and his Liberal minority government are security and infrastructure - meaning keeping roads in good repair for the trucks and not allowing international terrorism and war to bog down the flow.
Herb Gray, a former deputy prime minister and international trade specialist who serves as chairman of the Canadian section of the International Joint Commission, said the relationship would have to include preserving and caring for natural resources shared by the countries.
The joint commission is autonomous and deals with water boundary issues. He said calls to use Great Lakes water to irrigate other parts of the United States and Canada would deplete the resource, contrary to some views. About 40 million people in both countries live around the Great Lakes, he said.
"Contrary to what people think, only about 1 percent of the Great Lakes is renewed through rain and snow," he said. "In other words, there is really not enough water to spare."
Mr. Gray said that under the new administration, the trading relationship must be protected and nourished. But at the same time, Canada must maintain its independence and place in the international community.
"Canada is the United States' biggest trading partner. It's not Japan, as most Americans have thought," he said. "The Canadian mouse sleeps with the American elephant, but what happens if the elephant rolls over in the middle of the night? ... [We must work on] forging a more productive, balanced relationship for Canada ... while not diminishing Canada's [place in the world]."
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