Cautious But Correct
Cautious Obama returned today in a trip to Canada:
President Barack Obama stepped cautiously in his first foreign trip Thursday, refraining from asking Canada to rethink its plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and saying changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement can wait. The new U.S. president was cheered by crowds in the snowy Canadian capital and responded by declaring "I love this country" at a news conference. On his way out of town, he stopped at a downtown market, where he delighted onlookers by shopping for gifts for his family.
In the news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama acknowledged that he has said NAFTA does too little to protect U.S. workers and the environment. Canada, the United State's largest trading partner, is leery of changes to the deal, and Obama said robust trade helps both nations.
Noting that NAFTA has side agreements on labor and the environment, he added, "If those side agreements mean anything, then they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreements so that they can be effectively enforced." He said he hopes there eventually will be a way to do so "that is not disruptive to the extraordinarily important trade relationships" between the U.S. and Canada.
This is cautious, but generally in the right. Side agreements respecting labor and the environment should be embedded and enforceable, not on the side and easily evaded.
We have a crucially important trade relationship with Canada, and I don't think anybody, on the left or the right, is looking to change that. But the facts are that both Americans and Canadians see problems with NAFTA that they would like reformed, and crying "protectionism!" at the very raising of criticism of a corporate-written trade deal is completely ridiculous, as are the comparisons of "Buy America" laws in the stimulus (which has been the standard in federal purchases since the 1930s), and, bizarrely, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (which didn't even affect the Depression anyway, given that trade at the time was maybe 4% of total economic output). And at a time of economic downturn, I don't think anyone should apologize ever for wanting to bolster American industry and innovation.