I attended a reception/dinner at the Embassy of Canada last night and I was most impressed – by the beauty of their building, the quality of the cuisine and the intensity of their commitment to international trade. Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson reminded everyone – as if we needed reminding – that Canada is our largest trading partner by far. U.S.-Canadian trade supports more than 7.1 million jobs in the U.S. He reiterated also a well known fact of life – that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a rousing success, stimulating economic growth and job creation in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. He expressed incredulity that there is criticism of NAFTA in Congress and even talk of re-negotiating NAFTA. Incredulity is in order.
Opposition to NAFTA and international trade in general cannot be understood in terms of reality, but rather an angst in the heartland that things aren’t going well and surely someone must be to blame. This reflects an age-old isolationist mentality among the public, dating back to the time of the Founding Fathers, that has never completely subsided and continues to surface from time to time. It is the responsibility of political leaders of all parties and ideological persuasions to steer the voters away from this folly. The world today is more economically interdependent than ever before. Should we permit protectionism to find expression in actual policy, it will have calamitous consequences.
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