Needed: stronger US-Canadian trust

President Bush just made his first official visit to Canada last week. Despite many fine words about friendship on both sides, the visit leaves several tests of friendship still on the table unmet.

The border to Canadian cattle remains closed over mad cow disease, which has cost the Canadian industry $4.2 billion over the past 18 months and devastated the lives of ranchers, farmers, and their families. Tariffs of $3.35 billion on Canadian softwood lumber remain confiscated and in danger of being lost forever even while trade lawyers argue.

Shared US-Canadian interests are greater than either of us might think, and we are in a fight together to sustain our quality of life.

In my former life as CEO of a global company, I saw with my own eyes the old-fashioned value of trust that comes from hard work in understanding your partner. When partners trust each other, they can confront the inevitable crises of the future.

The US and Canada still need a breakthrough in trust and understanding beyond what the president's visit was designed to deliver.

We need to understand on both sides of the border that our mutual national interests are closely intertwined. For example, the huge and largely invisible trade with Canada supports 5.2 million jobs for Americans, including valuable jobs in every state of the Union. This is a very important consideration for those in Congress facing protectionist legislation that would damage the world's largest and most successful trading relationship.

For Canada, part of the bilateral equation is simple. The DNA of the Canadian economy is trade. More than 42 percent of the Canadian economy is linked to exports, compared with only 10 percent of the US economy. Well over 80 percent of those exports go to the US - on average $20,000 in two-way trade crosses our mutual border every second of every day of the year. US trade with one province alone, Ontario, is larger than US trade with Japan.

Trade sustains Canada's prosperity and explains its loudness about the ban on imports of Canadian livestock, softwood lumber tariffs, wheat, and so on.

For the US, the bilateral equation is equally simple. Americans need to know that they can trust Canada to help secure the long northern border against real enemies of the US. Canadians need to understand what is at stake for their southern neighbors.

So what can we do?

The core issue for both sides is the border. Both governments need to maintain a balance between free flow of commerce and security protection, to cut through the layers of bureaucratic regulation and competing jurisdictions that have atrophied over years.

The Smart Border Initiative has helped keep the border open to the 96 percent of Canada-US trade that is problem-free. But that is a half measure born of the trauma of 9/11.

We will have to go further and consider in the first instance forming a bilateral border commission, with involvement of the various interested parties from government to industry. Here, together, the two nations could rationalize the cross-border standards, regulations, and procedures that already exist. If we keep the red tape and turf struggles to a minimum, the approach would make business faster, more competitive and less expensive for both trading partners. And it would ensure that security is the watchword on both sides of the border.

We should look at the next generation of architecture for North American institutions. The economies of the US, Canada, and Mexico have all benefited from NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), but that agreement was conceived and negotiated over a decade ago. It is not sufficient that our North American institutions remain stagnant while Europe and Asia are engaged in dynamic expansion.

Lastly, Canadian and American politicians must know each other better and invest the political capital in the relationship. Canadians need to appreciate what's unique and special about American business, politics, culture, and law; Americans need to appreciate how integrated their local economies and job creation really are with Canada.

North Americans must rely on each other to defend and sustain the remarkable quality of life we've built here together.

Belinda Stronach is a Canadian member of Parliament from Ontario, a member of the Opposition shadow cabinet for international trade, and former CEO of Magna International, one of the world's largest auto parts makers.

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