Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Macdonald-Laurier Institute Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley says that United States President Barack Obama is taking the wrong approach to win support for joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Brian Lee Crowley

Rather than underselling the progress the United States and Canada have achieved in the decades since agreeing to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Crowley says, Obama should instead be using it as a blueprint.

“Belittling what we have achieved together in North America is a peculiar way for the president to show how much he loves this country and it makes it harder, not easier, for him to achieve his Asian trade ambitions”, he says.

By Brian Lee Crowley, Dec. 5, 2014

Early in his presidency Barack Obama visited Canada and, to the swooning delight of his audience, declared "I love this country."

And indeed why would he not? We were the poster child for everything that Obama wished for America. We had stayed out of Iraq (which he declared the "bad" war) but were loyal allies in Afghanistan (which was Obama's "good" war). We had universal public health care, a more developed welfare state and were keen members of the well-meaning "international community" whose disapproval the president seems to think ought to be sufficient on its own to put a stop to any international conflict.

Canadians reciprocated Mr Obama's affection. He was lionized wherever he went.

But while he might still be met with adoring crowds if he returned to Ottawa today, by any sober assessment of the president's policies toward us his love of this country has chiefly been of the tough variety.

It would be tiresome to repeat in detail what every Canadian now knows: the president has repeatedly damaged our national interests on pipelines, vital border infrastructure and international trade issues.

His latest foray into Canada-bashing, however, deserves some kind of special award for chutzpah. As reported in the Washington Post earlier this week, Mr Obama is now arguing that America should support his trade strategy in Asia as a way to correct the shortcomings of the NAFTA agreement that has bound Canada, the US and Mexico together in a free trade area since 1993.

There are so many things wrong with this logic that it is hard to know where to begin.

A president who wants to win the support of Americans for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the American-led negotiations for a free trade deal embracing a dozen countries on the Pacific Rim, might want to trumpet the success of NAFTA. As its architects promised, that 20 year old agreement delivered increased trade and prosperity for all three of the member countries. It has been so successful that a recent fact-finding study made the case that North American economic co-operation needed to be given a whole new impetus so that those benefits could be consolidated and increased.

Was this study led by sly Canadians and Mexicans trying to bamboozle Americans into misunderstanding their trade interests? On the contrary, it was an effort of the prestigious and non-partisan American Council on Foreign Relations led by retired US Army General David Petraeus and former US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Nor has any serious study of the costs and benefits of NAFTA given support to the president's claim that free trade in North America led to a decline in labour and environmental standards in the three countries. Again, the evidence is that our continent's shared prosperity has been accompanied by rising environmental quality and has been a big net job creator.

President Obama is still the prisoner of the anti-trade rhetoric of the environmental and labour movements that undergird his base. So he plays to their prejudices by pretending that they're right that NAFTA's been bad for America and that the TPP can be a "good" trade agreement.

Not only is the premise wrong (and enraging to America's NAFTA partners), but since the recent US mid-terms, his argument aims at the wrong audience. To win approval for the TPP the president doesn't need labour and the greens. He needs congressional Republicans who now hold substantial majorities in both houses. Republicans are largely pro-trade and hostile to misguided attempts to use trade agreements to prop up artificially the US labour movement, for example.

TPP would be good for America for exactly the reasons NAFTA has been good for America (and Canada). Belittling what we have achieved together in North America is a peculiar way for the president to show how much he loves this country and it makes it harder, not easier, for him to achieve his Asian trade ambitions.

Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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