Binkley Report — Slow and cautious wins the race


Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ... 

The Binkley Report

Slow and cautious wins the race

Meanwhile, 'I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The next few years may well be a rough ride economically, but that’s no reason to get all gloomy and grumpy. Enjoy life, family and friends.'

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

16 December 2011 — The Canada-U.S. border streamlining agreement barely held the interest of the news media for a day before it drifted into obscurity on the back pages.

That’s probably just what the architects of the deal want so they can get on with implementing it.

The agreement, announced in Washington by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama Wednesday, December 7, is long on pilot projects and phasing-in and short on glitz and catchy headlines. It’s clearly focused on making the border as open as possible to trade. It holds considerable upsides for the automobile, agri-food and transport sectors if officials in the two countries can turn all the promising leads in the agreement into reality during the next few years.

Almost predictably, the civil rights crowd is pouring scorn on the deal. Most of them would do that anyway.

However, trade guru Peter Clark and former ambassador Derek Burney are among the experts giving the deal the thumbs up because it strives to be doable and doesn’t intrude on national jurisdictions.

The way to look at it is that much like the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, the best way for the United States and Canada (and hopefully Mexico some day) to gain long term prosperity is by making North America an as strong as economically possible trading bloc. One of the easiest ways to do that is reduce pointless red tape among the countries. Any food or chemical that sickens Americans will do the same to Canadians and Mexicans. Any car that’s unsafe for Canadians is also unsafe for Americans and Mexicans. There’s no need for a lot of separate regulations.

In a column written for the online news service,, Clark notes the deal secures important gains for Canadians and for Canadian business. “Of course, it took years of detailed work and perseverance to achieve this overnight success. And there will be several years of additional work before the principles become entrenched in each others’ regulatory systems.

“The benefits are important — they help Canadian business in a range of ways, from reducing the nuisance costs and inhibitors on cross border trade of multinational companies to making regulation more uniform and less complex for small business.”

Clark also notes that it’s very much in Canada’s interest to be able to keep the border open during a crisis such as after a natural disaster, pandemic or terrorist attack. As beef farmers can explain, such a closure “would be catastrophic for Canada. Layoffs would come quickly because of our inability to export. Canadian assembly lines would shut down because just in-time deliveries of parts had been interrupted. And on an individual level, Canadians would experience serious stock shortages and empty produce bins in grocery stores.”

The agreement also responds to American security concerns, he says. “Improving border security in North America improves security for Canadians,” he says. “We do not need to experience our own version of 9-11 to realize that there was a problem. Does it impair our sovereignty to share information to deal with security threats? This is a red herring — the mantra of those opposed to any change. Canada has not given up its regulatory systems. Our health, food and hospitals and regulatory systems are still our own.

“Eliminating unnecessary regulation and duplication in inspection benefits everyone. It saves time, money and inconvenience,” he continues. “It will free up human and other resources which can be used more efficiently in moving goods and services and in enhancing security. This is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of common sense —  which unfortunately is not always very common.”

Don’t look for overnight changes from the border deal. It will only work if government officials responsible for the border are able to see change is good, not a threat. That means implementing anything new cautiously.

For an example of how far we have to go, remember the flap a few months back about Obama’s bus. It turns out the shell of the bus was made in Quebec, but most of the interior was built in the U.S. That’s what NAFTA has accomplished, yet too few people in either country are aware of it. No one in either country thought to point that out. Hopefully, the benefits of this deal with get more attention.

It’s that wonderful time of the year and I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The next few years may well be a rough ride economically, but that’s no reason to get all gloomy and grumpy. Enjoy life, family and friends.

Add new comment