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Agriculture This Week - Trade relationships often have rough spots

When it comes to international relationships we in Canada like to think we have something special with the United States.

When it comes to international relationships we in Canada like to think we have something special with the United States. 

Granted we share a very long border, one free of gun turrets and soldier patrols, but the cordial relationship rarely extends to matters of trade. 

The United States sees itself as the ‘big dog’ in our world, and with that comes a certain level of assumed entitlement on their part. 

Obviously Canada does a lot of trade with product moving south since we are very much a production oriented nation, whether its agriculture, mining, oil, or forestry. We have the capacity to produce far in excess of what we consume, so we look to move product to international markets. 

The U.S., with its roughly 325 million population, is a prime market based on ease of access. 

Except that ease of access extends only to easy access for products in terms of transportation. 

Trade is still something of a maze of red tape in many cases. 

Yes, we have trade agreements in place, but it must be remembered that in climbing into bed with the U.S., it’s a big like being in that bed with a giant, when they roll over they take almost all of the blankets.   

In the case of a trade deal the paperwork is done, but that does not preclude trade disputes, and while often the process might rule in the favour of Canada, there is always a cost involved that producers must pay. 

There have always been disputes going on, from fights over the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) when it existed, to supply managed sector, to hogs and softwood lumber. I suppose it should be noted here that the CWB was dismantled, and supply management is a shadow of its former shelf, both moves no doubt influenced by American pressures. 

The relationship was put under greater strain by the administration of US President Donald Trump, a highly protectionist leader with a personality that ruffled feathers everywhere. His four years was not about open trade at all, and strained relationships with more than Canada. 

New President Joe Biden is expected to be more congenial with trade partners, but it’s far from smooth sailing as trade disputes linger from the Trump days – including lumber and dairy. 

So while we rely heavily on the US market here in Canada we have to recognize the only deal the Americans like is one they see themselves having got the upper hand. 

We may be friends, but in terms of trade that relationship is often strained.

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