Calgary Herald, Wednesday, June 04, 2003
David Orchard isn't so far off base in identifying NAFTA's flaws
The backroom deal that installed Peter MacKay as
leader of the Progressive Conservatives has sparked a
national identity crisis in the Tory party, perhaps
David Orchard, whose name is often preceded with the
description "anti-free trade activist," became the
kingmaker when he agreed to back MacKay in the fourth
ballot of the leadership selection process. In exchange,
Orchard demanded neither truck nor trade with the
Canadian Alliance -- a major setback to the conservative
cause -- and a blue-ribbon panel to review free trade.
The latter idea is not as bad as it seems.
For all the puffed-up media coverage, Orchard takes a
surprisingly moderate tone on the issue of international
trade. He does not say outright that Canada should scrap
the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he does say
there are clauses in those agreements "that are damaging
sovereignty as a nation."
Orchard believes Canada did better under the
multilateral framework of the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade, now the World Trade Organization, and
that Canada agreed to clauses in the FTA and NAFTA that
turned out to be a bum deal. He has a point.
In particular, Orchard is outraged by Chapter 11 of
NAFTA, which allows private corporations to sue the
Canadian government for passing laws that harm their
businesses -- something that wasn't allowed under GATT.
Orchard cites the Chapter 11 challenge to Canada's 1995
decision to ban the sale of the gasoline additive MMT,
even though California and Europe had banned the toxin.
Canada settled the claim by paying the U.S. company $20
million in compensation, and backing down on the
It's one thing for a trade agreement to create a
level playing field between U.S. and Canadian suppliers.
It's another for the United States to use a trade
agreement to strike down Canadian air pollution
standards. That's not what free trade is supposed to be
Under GATT, trade rules were subject to international
law. But under the FTA and NAFTA, Canada's exports are
subject to U.S. trade law, which is increasingly
influenced by powerful U.S. lobby groups. Thus, the
United States can unilaterally imposed quotas on
Canadian steel and hogs, tariffs on softwood lumber,
wheat and durum, and still give massive subsidies to
U.S. agricultural producers. One wonders whether the
United States is committed to the spirit of free trade
Skeptics are right to remain suspicious of Orchard's
motives. He still lauds the Tories' historical
protectionist stance and writes: "The Conservative party
– and Canada – can survive only if it leaves behind the
rush to globalization, which means Americanization."
Those are hardly the words of a free-trade crusader.
But Orchard is right about this – it's time to do a
review of Canada's free trade agreements with the United
States. If it's possible to get a better trade deal,
it's worth a try.
© Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald