The latest instalment in the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Q&A series features the key negotiators of the Canada-U.S. FTA on the 25th anniversary of the "free-trade election"

OTTAWA, December 6 – On Nov. 21 in Calgary, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute hosted a gala dinner in celebration of the 1988 election that ratified the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. In an entertaining exchange moderated by Calgary Herald editorial pages editor Licia Corbella, key negotiators Derek Burney and James Baker III reminisced about the negotiations and reflected on the legacy of free trade for both countries. The discussion is now available as the latest instalment of MLI's Straight Talk series of interviews with prominent thought leaders and policy makers.

"I'm going to tell you what's cultural in the United States: automobiles", Baker recalls telling Burney in response to popular concerns about threats to Canadian culture at the time.

Burney recalls telling Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as the deadline for a deal approached that he didn't believe it was going to go through over the issue of a dispute resolution mechanism. "If there hadn't been a deadline, he and I might still be negotiating …" Burney said.

The two agreed that negotiations were difficult, particularly the dispute-resolution mechanism, which was agreed on with minutes to spare before fast-track approval by the U.S. Congress was set to expire. They also agreed that free-trade can be a difficult sell when there was such vitriol against it from certain corners. "[I]t's a little hard to try and convince people who have had the politics of fear used like that and teach them the comparative advantages taught by David Ricardo", Burney explained. Baker and Burney also agreed that the benefits of free-trade between Canada and the U.S. have been even greater than they imagined.

Finally, Baker and Burney both expressed regret that, after the FTA was expanded to include Mexico in NAFTA, a hemispheric free-trade agreement was never accomplished.

"The one thing that we all held out high hopes for after you had the Canada-US Free-Trade Agreement and then NAFTA, was that we would have a hemispheric free-trade agreement …" said Baker "We have never gotten there; we let fast-track authority in the United States expire in the face of the 1996 presidential elections because labour was opposed to it". For video of the event click here.

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