Toward the end of the Bush Administration, in which I worked for a year, whenever I’d hear the eye-roll-inducing, “Bush has hurt our image in the world!” I would counter, “But what about all the trade deals he made?”
In response to the blank stares, I’d note, “Before Bush took office, America only had free trade agreements with three countries: Israel, Canada, and Mexico, but Bush negotiated deals with:
* El Salvador
* Dominican Republic
* Oman, and
* Costa Rica
“So, what’s all this about our image in the world?”
Free trade – the idea that two peoples can mutually benefit when their governments get out of the way and let them do business – is an issue conservatives have long championed. And one we have decisively won. President Obama eventually came around on free trade when he championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, following in the footsteps of President Clinton, who’d signed the wonderfully conservative NAFTA into law 20 years earlier.
NAFTA – our free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico – has been mostly great for most people, strengthening economic and political ties with our neighbors and allowing for entrepreneurs to create wealth in a free-er economy. NAFTA has surged back into the headlines lately, with news that President Trump is considering scrapping it.
I received calls from the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada asking to renegotiate NAFTA rather than terminate. I agreed..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2017
This news is saddening. Trade often gets a bum rap, though, despite the fact that it’s so good for the economy at large. Particularly castigated is the idea of a “trade deficit” – or “imbalance of trade” – where America buys more from one country than that country buys from us (as is the case with both Mexico and China).
Perpetuation of this idea needs to stop. An imbalance of trade doesn’t really exist. If one country is trading its money for stuff, then it gets stuff and the other country gets money. It’s like the grocery store: I must have a horrible trade imbalance with my local grocery store because I buy stuff from them all the time, but they never buy anything from me.
To help clarify this, I made a video about trade (which features both then-Mister Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders) in partnership with a DC think-tank called Capital Policy Analytics.
Now, the last years has taught me it is somewhat arrogant to sweepingly announce that “trade is so good for the economy at large.” It’s implicit that a deal which has been mostly great for most people has not been great for everyone. But that means we find a way to help those who have not benefited from NAFTA rather than scrapping the whole thing. We also need to agree that if someone’s local economy didn’t benefit from NAFTA, the response should not be to call them racists or xenophobes (or whatever other -ists and -obes are popular that week).
Business Insider created a graphic for people to share on social media, highlighting each state’s biggest external trade partner. While some are Mexico or China, the overwhelming majority are Canada.
Note: I have not figured out yet why Utah’s is Hong Kong. Maybe because of Gov. Huntsman’s Asia connections. Maybe because they buy a lot of our brine shrimp eggs. Either way, pretty cool.
America and Canada are beacons to the world of international diplomacy. We share a common language and common culture. We share the longest international border in human history, and one over which no shots have been fired in more than 200 years. Seriously, in that time America has fought more wars with itself than with Canada. They are an unfailing economic, military, political, and cultural partner.
OK sure, Canada can be a little annoying – they’re like your perfect little brother everybody loves because he never gets in trouble, even though you’re the one those same people call for help when they’re in trouble. But we love them anyway. If Canada and America can’t be the very best of international friends, then no one can.
So, I beseech the Administration: don’t mess with this great friendship. If for no other reason than to give Justin Trudeau one less reason to “stand up to Trump!” Seriously, that guy’s gonna break his arm patting himself on the back.