Foreign Policy Impacts Rural Economy

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

These are perilous times we live in. War seems to be imminent and there is a heightened sense of nervousness and foreboding with each passing day.

While we in rural Manitoba are thankfully somewhat insulated from the direct effects of most of Ottawa’s foreign policy, we are vulnerable to trade actions, especially from our largest trading partner, the United States. We are at even greater risk these days.

The United States, as the world’s only “hyperpower,” has a unique and dangerous global role to play. Not only is the U.S. the main target of every terrorist in the world, the nature of the global economy demands a certain stability. The conditions of a prosperous economy include the rule of law, the protection of property rights, the sanctity of contracts and a stable, “anchor” currency, which is the American dollar. This is in addition to an expansion of free and open trade.

The United States is charged with the grave responsibility of maintaining world order, a responsibility that they take reluctantly but with the assurance that it is absolutely necessary. Significant segments of the Canadian elite disdain the United States and favour a greater role for the United Nations. Apart from the sheer ineffectiveness of that organization, the United Nations has shown with its outrageous pandering to the dictators of the world that it cannot be trusted to protect democracy and human rights. This is apart from the U.N.’s deep suspicion of free markets.

The points above illustrate why the United States, and the United States alone, must preserve global stability. Here is where Canada comes in.

The United States, while capable of unilateral action, would like to have at least a few allies on board, Canada being the most notable. Not that we can do much, but our proximity to the U.S. and reliance on their economy for our prosperity make us the most likely ally. After September 11, it should have been Canada that stepped into the breach, but Britain showed its true mettle and is standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S.

The Canadian government with its vacillating stance and snubbing of the United States, not to mention comments about President Bush by senior officials, has made the U.S. realize that we are an unreliable ally and a truly foreign country.

Rural economies, and Manitoba is no exception, are much more dependent on trade than urban economies. Most of Manitoba’s exports flow to the United States and our very standard of living, health care included, depends on this trade. Thanks to an Ottawa foreign policy that seeks to distance us from the U.S., this segment of our economy is now in some jeopardy.

Note how most of our trade disputes involve rural industries and commodities such as softwood lumber, potatoes, sugar, dairy, the Canadian Wheat Board, and beef. Our access to the U.S. market depends more on their goodwill than a genuine need for our products, with a few significant exceptions.

So what possible interest would the U.S. have in “playing ball” with Canada on trade when we have been such an unreliable ally? Watch for tough U.S. actions on the trade front, as well as new rules and restrictions on goods and people crossing the border. I guess as a country we will have only reaped what we sowed but it is rural communities that will pay the biggest price.

Frontier Centre’s Rural Renaissance Project