- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

This week Canada, Mexico and the United States celebrated the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Washington, former Presidents George Bush and Carlos Salinas of Mexico and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appeared together as the original signatories of NAFTA.
Under NAFTA, Canada and Mexico have become our largest trading partners. Trade between Canada and the United States alone now accounts for almost $500 billion per year. U.S. trade with Mexico (more than $270 billion per year) exceeds our trade with Japan even though Mexico's economy is less than one-eighth the size of Japan's.
Of course, NAFTA is more than a trade agreement; it is a strategic alliance that takes on greater importance every day. For instance in the area of strategic energy security, few people realize that our neighbor to the north, Canada, is the largest supplier of energy to the United States.
The lesson of NAFTA is that good trade agreements whether they are bilateral or multilateral provide the foundation for regional and global trade liberalization, which spurs economic competitiveness and almost universal benefits for consumers around the world.
NAFTA is part of the foundation that makes North America a much stronger and more dependable global alliance than it was a decade ago. Our NAFTA experience tells us that trade is a critically important part of our economic growth equation and a key factor in strengthening overall relationships between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Our close economic relationship with Canada, for example, strengthens the partnership we share in standing shoulder to shoulder in the war on terrorism. There is much that is taken for granted between the United States and Canada. Many Americans are surprised to learn the extent to which the U.S. and Canadian economies are interwoven: our two high-wage industrial nations having literally grown up together as neighbors, allies and economic partners. There is so much that is right about NAFTA, that we would do well to remember its importance and the unfinished business it leaves for us.
Recently, the United States took a significant step in solving a long-standing issue between the United States and Mexico in allowing Mexican trucks that meet U.S. regulatory conditions to gain access to the United States outside the border region. This was an important step forward.
To the north, we have similarly important unfinished business of equal importance. For the past 20 years, the softwood lumber dispute has been a burr under the saddle of an otherwise smooth trade relationship. The 27 percent import tax that has been imposed on Canadian lumber is creating a trade barrier. Charges and counter-charges have gone back and forth across the border, often landing the parties in front of international trade tribunals that have, consistently, backed the Canadian side. It's time to put an end to that rancorous and destructive course.
At its best, lumber trade with Canada epitomizes how free trade can work to the benefit of both partners. More fundamentally, unless we "fix" issues like lumber that are a growing irritant in our trade relationship, the more difficult it is to make progress on other trade issues. For example, the Bush administration's ambitious effort to eliminate global tariffs is complicated substantially when its closest trading partners are challenging its basic trade obligations.
North of the border, the sale of lumber with a U.S.-imposed 27 percent import tax has become a hugely symbolic issue of what is not right in Canada's relationship with the United States, including real economic hardship for many Canadians. A long-term solution on the lumber trade issue will get the government out of the business of interfering with the free markets, lower taxes for U.S. consumers, and ensure that Canadian consumers continue to buy American goods. These policy objectives and economic outcomes are consistent with the values of this administration and the incoming Congress.
The Bush administration and the Congress would do well to continue the spirit of economic friendship in North America. The logical place to really make a difference is to rationalize trade in Canadian lumber consistent with the broader free trade principles of NAFTA.

William E. Brock is a former senator from Tennessee, former U.S. secretary of labor and former U.S. trade representative. Today he is co-chair of the U.S.-Canada Partnership for Growth.

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