Americans Shrug Off Canadian Tough Talk : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


VANCOUVER (CP) -- What if Canada declared a trade war and nobody came to fight?

Increasingly angry talk from Canadian politicians, union and community leaders over a punitive American duty on Canadian lumber imports has produced little more than a yawn south of the border, if news reports are anything to go by.

Canadians are seething at the prospect of thousands of layoffs and paying billions of dollars in new tariffs imposed this month because of allegations Canadian softwood is unfairly subsidized.

Faced with potential economic disaster in a $10-billion annual export business, the federal government started sabre-rattling last week.

First, cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal suggested delaying a project to pipe Alaskan natural gas through Canada to the United States.

And then Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he gave President George W. Bush "hell" on Monday for wanting free access to Canadian gas -- key to the president's energy plan -- but not softwood.

But he wasn't linking energy supplies to free trade in lumber, said Chretien. He was just pointing out an inconsistency in U.S. trade policy. Nudge, nudge.

As a shot across the bow, as a wake-up call, as a slap upside the head, it didn't exactly resonate.

Some U.S. newspapers carried reports with no American reaction.

The influential Washington Post summed up softwood as an item in a column of business briefs buried inside the paper, focusing on Canada's plans to challenge the U.S. before the World Trade Organization.

There were no fearful forecasts of natural gas shortages, no visions of OPEC-embargo era lineups at service stations.


"Part of it is that the threat of Canadian action is not taken very seriously," said Christopher Sands, co-ordinator of the Canada Project at the Centre for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C.

"The mass of the American public just can't imagine that Canada would do something punitive and rotten."

In an annual survey done since 1974 by the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, Canada perennially ranks first in Americans' esteem, said Sands.

"We just like you guys," he said. "I swear, if you guys developed weapons and decided you were going to launch an invasion, even if you announced it in the media weeks in advance, it would still catch us by surprise."

The whole lumber tiff, the biggest trade dispute between the world's two biggest bilateral trading partners, is simply not on the U.S. media's radar.

Business pages dutifully reported the Commerce Department's imposition of the 19.3 per cent duty.

Newspapers in lumber-producing regions such as Oregon, Washington and Georgia followed up with an assessment of the local impact, but there was little reporting of concerns about higher-priced homes triggered by a boost in lumber prices.

"I've seen a little bit in the editorial columns but mainly to criticize the Bush administration for being sort of free trade in spirit and, as it turns out, protectionist in action, which is really just the domestic political game,"said Sands. "But there's very little concern over the actual content."

Business reporter Drew DeSilver of the Seattle Times reported this week on the impact of the duty on Washington-based Weyerhaeuser, which had to close three B.C. plants.

"I got zero feedback on that story from anyone, which kind of surprised me," he said.

Canadian hints about playing the energy card went over everyone's head, DeSilver believed.

"I think most ordinary Americans, they think we get our energy from the Middle East," he said. "I don't think they're even aware that we get energy from Canada."

So fine. Average Americans -- who, if Rick Mercer is to be believed, think there's a seal hunt in Saskatchewan -- don't know Canada supplies much of their imported energy, including electric power. The leadership does.

But they don't believe Canada will retaliate either, and their calculation is colder.

"It's kind of a realpolitik thing," said Sands. "We know that 85 per cent of your exports are coming south overall and if we go from a trade dispute to a trade war by linking various sectors, then it ultimately will rebound to Canada's damage before we really start to feel the pain."

Canadian leaders know this, and Americans know they know.

And yet, Sands says, the U.S. public, media and even governmental perception lags behind the reality of how closely the two economies have become entwined in the first decade of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"They don't appreciate how integration is actually linking us up so that damage to the Canadian economy really rebounds, blows back and hits you hard on the U.S. side," he said.

But some sectors of U.S. industry understand it -- like the oil and gas business.

Chretien's message, said Sands, perhaps was aimed at them, and the two former oilmen running the country, Bush and U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney.

"If you're (chief executive) Archie Dunham at Conoco and you like the Canadian route for the pipeline, then maybe this gets you to pick up the phone and say, 'Don't try too hard to win this case because we don't want a big fight with the Canadians on our hands. This is going to complicate our lives.'"

Such pressure might not derail the countervail case, but it could spur Americans into the kind of negotiated settlement groups on both sides of the border hope for.

"They'll hear it not from Canada, which will cut some ice but not that much, but they'll hear it from their own big backers and constituents."

-- Rachel Gibson (, August 26, 2001


I think the Bush administration is playing with dynamite here. Few realize how much energy we get from Canada.

-- Uncle Fred (, August 27, 2001.

About the last thing we need is a trade war with Canada.

-- Nancy7 (, August 27, 2001.

Time to shut off a few gas valves......

-- Will (, August 27, 2001.

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