US and Canada prepare to talk free trade
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At issue are so-called cultural industries. Canada has special laws or regulations to maintain or enlarge Canadian ownership of such businesses as newspapers and magazines, book publishing and distribution, film distribution, cable TV operation, and so on.Skip to next paragraph
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So far the US has insisted such restrictions be put on the bargaining table. The chief American negotiator, Peter C. Murphy, has been quoted as saying he doesn't really understand ``this cultural identity thing.''
``He is going to learn,'' comments Bruce Macdonald, a Canadian trade official here.
One former member of Parliament speculates that insistence of the US on keeping the cultural question in the talks may be a bargaining tactic -- something that could be given up in return for concessions elsewhere.
From the Canadian government's standpoint, however, it is a dangerous issue that could destroy public support for free trade with the US.
Mr. Goldfarb, who conducts polls for the opposition Liberal Party, says that roughly 20 percent of Canadians think joining the US would be a good thing. These tend to be business people. The majority of Canadians are sternly opposed to political integration and anxious about further economic unification.
The free-trade talks are opposed by the New Democratic Party, the leftist party that usually wins about 20 percent of the vote in federal elections. Organized labor, that party's ally, is also opposed.
Canada's Liberal Party, the chief opposition party, is split on the issue but has ended up approving the talks as long as the government takes account of trade with other parts of the world.
Supporting the Progressive Conservative government's free-trade proposal are the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers Association, a small business federation, the agricultural industry (with reservations), and important consumer groups.
Goldfarb suggests that if President Reagan were to make a statement sympathizing with Canadian cultural concern and promising not to bargain on these points, much of the controversy ``would go away.''
At next week's meeting, the talks will be largely procedural. One question will be whether to aim for conclusion of a deal before the Reagan administration loses its ``fast track'' authority at the start of 1988. Alternatively, the Reagan administration will have to ask Congress for an extension of that authority, something the latest Senate Finance Committee vote suggests will be difficult.
The negotiators must also determine whether to deal with all the issues in one round of talks, or postpone agriculture.
They must decide in what order to deal with such key issues as tariffs, countervailing or dumping duties, trade in services, government procurement restrictions, intellectual property, the 1965 Auto Pact between the two nations, and so on.
Goldfarb is concerned that Mr. Mulroney's strong political commitment to the trade negotiations could prompt more trade concessions than the Canadian public will approve of.
At the same time, however, he notes that the US must demonstrate that it can make a deal with Canada for foreign policy reasons. Failure, he says, ``will send a signal'' to other nations.