Rural Communities Benefit from Free Trade

Commentary, Trade, Robert Sopuck

Trade is back in the news with the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) talks and, of course, our very own softwood lumber dispute with the United States. As well, in early November, the Common Front on the World Trade Organization, a group trying to stop the worldwide push towards free trade visited Brandon. Before one can respond to such groups we need an understanding of the importance of trade to Canada as a whole and rural communities in particular.

A recent Conference Board of Canada report on this topic noted that Canada is the most trade dependent country of the major industrialized countries; exports generate about 45% of our Gross Domestic Product. One out of three jobs depend on exports. That s why Canada needs free access to foreign markets, now and in the future.

Rural economies are often dependent on the production of goods for export compared to the more service-oriented urban economies. Our rural product mix is comprised of such things as forest products, agricultural goods, and minerals. Canada, with its relatively small population, cannot consume all that production so most rural production must be exported. Western Canadian agriculture exports fully 80% of what is produced here while Canada s forest industry is the country s number one contributor to our balance of trade. If you find yourself in sympathy with the anti-trade mob just close your eyes and imagine 80% of our Western farms and rural communities gone. Nuff said.

What about fair trade? Fair trade is another phrase for government managed trade. Well, we see the results of that in the U.S. actions against Canadian softwood lumber exports. U.S. lumber producers complained to the government that Canadian exports weren t fair to them. The result was government-imposed tariffs and duties on Canadian lumber exports that have, to date, cost at least 15,000 high paid rural jobs in B.C. And that s just the start of the job losses. Given their trade-dependence, rural communities will pay the biggest price for so-called fair trade. In our own region, potato processing, oat milling, hog processing, and livestock feeding would all be finished without free and open access to world markets.

The flip side of trade is that we must accept the goods from our trading partners. Trade creates growth, jobs and rising living standards, and better health outcomes in developing countries. The faster poorer countries become rich through trade, the more stable their societies become and the more reliable they will be as true economic partners. Currently, over 90% of the products from developing countries enter Canada duty-free. Let s make it 100% soon.

What about the retro corporate agenda nonsense being peddled about by the anti-trade forces? A healthy private sector is at the base of our prosperous economy. From the publicly traded TSE companies that form much of the retirement portfolios of senior and not-so-senior citizens, to the innovative companies who are constantly striving to provide us with better goods and services, we need healthy companies, big and small. Free, open, and unmanaged trade makes corporations more efficient and profitable.

We all benefit from that.