Whether you shop downtown or at a box store, almost all of the products available for purchase are affected by Canada’s various free trade agreements. Economic development in Canada over the past three decades has been significantly shaped by this policy direction of open borders.
In recent weeks, there has been serious talk of opening up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that dictates the terms by which Canadian, American and Mexican products can be produced and traded throughout all three nations. There is little concrete understanding of how these negotiations will affect NAFTA. However, the federal government’s recent appointment of high profile political figures to a NAFTA Advisory Council indicates the high potential of monumental change.
These talks reinvigorate the age-old question: is free trade worth pursuing?
This is one of the toughest political questions to answer. Up for debate can be the effectiveness of sector specialization in the international economy, increased economic inequality, improved living conditions, job creation, national identity, environmental protection and regulations around investor/state dispute settlement mechanisms, to name a few.
So many factors contribute to an individual’s personal interpretation of whether free trade, and by association NAFTA, is perceived to be bad or good. This is not a black and white issue, but an issue that can be depicted by a grey paint swatch with shades ranging from darkest to lightest.
However, despite these intricate complexities, one argument for free trade cannot be disputed. This argument, which outdates our current era of free-trade prevalence, is rarely considered during present day trade negotiations.
According to the 1948 memoirs of Cordell Hull, the longest serving United States secretary of state, free trade was not solely an economic driver. It would be vital in initiating peace within the international community, which at the time was recovering from World War II.
Among the reasons for this argument was that one country would not be able to justify employing violence against another country it depended on for economic sustenance. Additionally, trade would facilitate dialogue between nations, providing more opportunity for peaceful negotiation.
This perspective on free trade became very significant in shaping our international community. Advocacy of this approach by Hull and others influenced American foreign policy and led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, predecessor of the European Union.
The establishment of free trade played an instrumental role in creating peace and stability following an era of international conflict. When considering this fact, free trade becomes a goal worth pursuing.
Accepting a lopsided NAFTA deal for free trade’s sake would be an error. However, in a world seemingly becoming more adversarial, it is important we as Canadians go into these negotiations remembering the essential role free trade plays in promoting international peace and stability.
Jay Fallis has a master degrees in political science from University of Toronto.