Trump and trade

Should Cana­di­ans worry about an­noy­ing The Man?

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

Like Mex­ico, Canada is in the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, which Don­ald Trump has de­scribed as “the worst trade deal ... ever signed in this coun­try.” Un­like Mex­ico, Canada thinks that Trump is not plan­ning to hurt it. But no good deed goes un­pun­ished, so Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau should be very care­ful.

Cana­di­ans felt good when Trudeau re­sponded to Trump’s ban on Syr­ian refugees by tweet­ing: “To those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, ter­ror and war, Cana­di­ans will wel­come you, re­gard­less of your faith. Di­ver­sity is our strength. Wel­come to Canada.” Feel­ing morally su­pe­rior to Amer­i­cans is one of Cana­di­ans’ favourite pas­times, and in this case it is self-ev­i­dently true.

In re­al­ity, there is no sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger from Mus­lim im­mi­grants to Amer­ica ei­ther. Most of the 28 ma­jor mas­sacres in the United States since 9/11 were car­ried out by white right-wing ex­trem­ists, and those that did in­volve Mus­lims were al­most all com­mit­ted by na­tive-born Amer­i­cans.

But Trump’s “ex­ec­u­tive or­ders” are not just driven by ig­no­rance and panic. He is con­sciously ma­nip­u­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion, and Canada’s re­sponse to his ban on Mus­lim im­mi­grants un­der­mines the script he is work­ing from.

If Trump’s do­mes­tic op­po­nents use the Cana­dian ex­am­ple to dis­credit Trump’s story about the mor­tal dan­ger posed by Mus­lim im­mi­grants, the man might claim that lax Cana­dian im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is a threat to the United States and ap­ply “ex­treme vet­ting” mea­sures to Mus­lim Cana­di­ans who want to cross the bor­der.

He might even ban Mus­lim Cana­di­ans from the United States en­tirely, or re­quire visas for all Cana­di­ans. That would im­pose huge in­con­ve­nience and cost on Cana­di­ans, but Don­ald Trump can ba­si­cally do what­ever he wants to his next-door neigh­bours. So Justin Trudeau would be wiser to do good by stealth and not at­tract too much at­ten­tion in the U.S.

Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto has a much big­ger prob­lem. He was well aware of Trump’s cam­paign prom­ise to build an “im­pen­e­tra­ble, phys­i­cal, tall, pow­er­ful, beau­ti­ful, south­ern bor­der wall” to keep out il­le­gal Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, and to make Mex­ico pay for it. But like most peo­ple, he couldn’t be­lieve that Trump meant it lit­er­ally.

Build­ing the wall isn’t go­ing to stop the es­ti­mated 45 per cent of il­le­gal Mex­i­can im­mi­grants who ar­rive quite legally by car, bus or plane, but over­stay their visas. It isn’t ex­actly ur­gent ei­ther, given that the net flow is now south­ward: since 2014 more Mex­i­cans have been go­ing home each year than ar­riv­ing in the U.S.

The wall is re­ally just sym­bolic, a demon­stra­tion of po­lit­i­cal will, but Trump has promised to build it and he will. Can he also make Mex­ico pay for it? Ac­tu­ally, he prob­a­bly can.

Last Thurs­day Mex­i­can of­fi­cials were in Wash­ing­ton pre­par­ing for Pres­i­dent Peña Ni­eto’s visit when Trump sud­denly tweeted: “If Mex­ico is un­will­ing to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be bet­ter to can­cel the up­com­ing meet­ing.”

Peña Ni­eto, deeply hu­mil­i­ated, did can­cel the meet­ing.

But on Fri­day, the two pres­i­dents had an hour-long phone call that the joint state­ment de­scribed as “pro­duc­tive and con­struc­tive”. There were no de­tails, but they did dis­cuss “the cur­rent trade deficit the United States has with Mex­ico,” among other things. “Fix­ing” that trade deficit is prob­a­bly how the cir­cle will ul­ti­mately be squared.

Mex­ico’s ex­ports to the US were $271 bil­lion last year; its im­ports were only $213 bil­lion. Trump wants to change that, and Peña Ni­eto has no op­tion to sub­mit.

Canada-US trade is roughly in bal­ance, so Cana­di­ans will prob­a­bly not suf­fer se­vere pres­sure un­less Trudeau re­ally ir­ri­tates The Man. The to­tal vol­ume of U.S.-China trade is about the same, but China sells the U.S. four times more than it buys from it.

That can’t be “fixed”, and Trump can­not be per­suaded to let it ride. There will be tears be­fore bed­time.

GWYNNE DYER

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