Free trade makes sense, then and now

John Crosbie
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Second in a two-part series

Because of my prior involvement in the governments in Newfoundland and Canada, I’m naturally very interested in the success of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
This wide-ranging agreement is already recognized as one of the most comprehensive and ambitious trade deals in history, and is likely to bring significant economic benefits to Canadian businesses of all sizes and sectors.

When it has been fully implemented, there will be duty-free access to all industrial goods and 95 per cent of agricultural products in Canada and from our European Union partners.

In surveying as much of the news coverage as I can from

St. John’s, it is apparent that there has been little opposition to date to this comprehensive and positive agreement. The only opposition I can find is from the Council of Canadians led by Maude Barlow, who reportedly — as expected — “loudly denounced the deal.”

This group’s members seem to believe they are the only concerned Canadians. All those who disagree with them are automatically assumed to be unconcerned Canadians or, worse, Canadians up to no good. This group takes a negative position to most public policy proposals of most governments. My experience with Barlow’s group is that it automatically opposes any change involving free trade between countries or even steps taken by governments to assist Canadian entrepreneurs.

That they take this position with respect to CETA is very comforting to me as a concerned Canadian who has supported free trade throughout my career, certainly as minister of International Trade for Canada for three years, from 1988 to 1991, before I moved to Fisheries and Oceans and ACOA.

When I was appointed to International Trade by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, I was instructed to ensure that the legislation necessary to enable the free trade agreement negotiated by veteran civil servant Simon Reisman and cabinet minister Pat Carney of British Columbia would pass through Parliament by January 1989. This was done, after we won the election of Nov. 21, 1988, defeating the Liberal party and the NDP, who opposed the free trade agreement with the United States. I was told, as well, that I was to lead in the task of selling the agreement to the Canadian people and to bring it into force by January 1989, as was done.

As a result of this appointment, my most exciting years, for the rest of my time in federal politics, were in Ottawa, leading the early NAFTA negotiations, selling NAFTA across the country and being responsible for our participation in the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations and putting forward the proposal that resulted in the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

It is now 26 years since those alarmist statements were made by the leaders of the Liberal party and the NDP. Both deliberately distorted and misrepresented the likely effects of the agreement first entered into between Canada and the U.S., and later with Mexico, in NAFTA.

As I said a few days after my appointment in Ottawa, the opponents of the free trade agreement were people who “Don’t think Canadians can hack it. They don’t think Canadians can compete. They’re subsidy seekers. They’re security-blanket supplicants.”

As for losing our culture to the U.S., I added that in Ontario, “What culture are you going to lose?”

While at that time some of the provinces were opposed to free trade with the United States, we succeeded in keeping their opposition muted and in quieting their fears and concerns.

After the 1988 election, the Progressive Conservatives were back in power with 171 seats, versus 81 for the Liberals and 43 for the NDP. This enabled us to meet the deadline for approval of this historic agreement by Canada.

We then undertook negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico to achieve  NAFTA some months later.

NDP opposed agreement with Mexico

The NDP disappointed many when they opposed the agreement with Mexico, spreading fear that Canadians would lose jobs to low-wage Mexican workers which, of course, did not occur.

Michael Wilson and Don Mazankowski, led by the prime minister, did great work in advocating the U.S.-Canada agreement during the election, and both later continued on in government, with Wilson going from Finance to International Trade and Mazankowski heading up Finance.

During a trade meeting held in Mexico with American and Mexican representatives, I pointed out that Canada and Mexico had nothing to fear from the agreement being negotiated since the only thing that stood between Mexico and Canada were some Hills and Bushes. I was referring to Carla Hills, the U.S. trade negotiator, and Bush, the American president at the time.

Looking back, I don’t think there is any question that NAFTA has been an excellent economic success, not just for Canada but for the United States and Mexico.

I, like my father before me, am a great supporter of the need for free trade with the United States. Just recently I came across an apt quotation from that great American of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who advised that “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

I agree absolutely, as do the Harper and Dunderdale administrations in Canada and our province. That statement is accurate and truthful and has stood the test of time ever since that first-class American diplomat, politician and statesman made the assessment.

John Crosbie welcomes your feedback at

Organizations: International Trade, NAFTA, NDP European Union Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Mexico Ottawa Fisheries British Columbia Uruguay Ontario

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Recent comments

  • david
    November 02, 2013 - 12:45

    Free Trade wonderful ...says the guy whose provincial government legislates the price of milk, gasoline, the minimum wage, and much of the (non-existent) fishery. He may be well past his Best Before date, but he still has a sense of humour