Fraser Forum

Canada can’t dodge two ‘trade’ bullets shot from the U.S.

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At this writing, the odds that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency are very high.

If your concern is trade between Canada and the United States, Canada dodged a bullet. Donald Trump is hostile to trade, mainly with China but also, it appears, with anyone outside U.S. borders. He has never shown an inkling of understanding about the benefits of trade and, although he’s inconsistent on many things, Trump has been a steady opponent of foreign trade.

I recall a news item about a speech he gave against NAFTA in Fresno, California in 1993 or 1994. He told his audience that Mexican businessmen favoured NAFTA and, therefore, it couldn’t be good for the U.S. This showed that he didn’t understand the basic economics of trade. In any trade, both sides gain or, at least, expect to gain. And unless what they get in return is a big disappointment, they do gain. Otherwise, they wouldn’t trade. And if they got disappointment after disappointment, they wouldn’t keep trading. Trump didn’t understand that.

So the good news is that Canada will likely dodge the Trump bullet. The bad news: Canada won’t dodge the Hillary Clinton bullet.

I have followed American elections closely since 1972, and I can’t recall another election in which the two major party candidates were so hostile to trade. As some Wikileaks memos reveal, Clinton has taken positions in favour of freer trade than we have. That’s the good news. And, by the way, it’s only semi-good news. Her focus, when she defends trade, is usually on the benefits to exporters. She virtually always leaves out at least half of the gains from trade—the benefits to importers.

The bad news is that on the campaign trail, she criticized the Trans Pacific Partnership, most likely as a way of being competitive with her anti-trade rival, Bernie Sanders. But not only that. In a rating of various members of congress on free trade, a rating that included Clinton when she was a U.S. senator from New York, the Cato Institute rated her as “interventionist.” In 29 votes on trade barriers, she voted against barriers only nine times, or 31 per cent. In eight votes on trade subsidies, she voted against subsidies only once.

In a speech to a Wall Street audience, Clinton said she had “both a public and a private position.” It’s not clear from context whether she meant that she lies or that she simply emphasizes different things to different audiences. But we know from other evidence that she is a liar.  So the big question on trade is—when is she lying?

Is she lying when she criticizes trade or when she says she favours it?
Clinton is smart, and she probably picked up and, who knows, might have even influenced, her husband’s relative pro-free-trade views. So there’s a reasonable probability that she will act in a relatively pro-trade manner.

There’s also a reasonable probability that she won’t. Let’s hope she lied to the right audience.


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