U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he still wants to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite a warning from Canada that this would be a mistake, but he said he did not want to end up curbing trade.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, shortly before his visit to Ottawa on Thursday, Obama also declined to characterize oil from Canada’s vast oil sands region as “dirty oil” which should somehow be curtailed.
Obama had alarmed Canada during the Democratic primaries last year when he advocated renegotiating NAFTA, and he reiterated this goal on Tuesday while recognizing these were sensitive economic times.
“As I’ve said before, NAFTA, the basic framework of the agreement, has environmental and labor protections as side agreements. My argument has always been that we might as well incorporate them into the full agreement so that they’re fully enforceable,” he said in the interview with CBC television.
However, he also said: “I think there are a lot of sensitivities right now because of the huge decline in world trade.”
Obama noted there was $1.5 billion in trade between Canada and the United States every day, adding: “It is not in anybody’s interest to see that trade diminish.”
When Obama raised the issue of toughening up NAFTA on the campaign trail a year ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said if Washington “made the mistake” of opening the agreement, Ottawa would bring other issues to the table for renegotiation.
How the Administration plans on being able to keep trade going and keep “other issues” from coming “to the table for renegotiation” is, of course, anyone’s guess. I know that Barack Obama is the Candidate of Hope, but Hope is not a plan, whatever the President might think.
The last things we need during a severe recession are (a) tax increases and (b) policies that may end up diminishing free trade. And yet, the Obama Administration will likely give us the former (to pay for the massive deficit it is going to give us thanks to perhaps multiple Keynesian stimulus packages) and is flirting with the latter.