Cattle Ruling a Victory for Free Trade

Commentary, Trade, Rolf Penner

On July 14, an audible sigh of relief across the prairies greeted the unanimous ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that lifted a temporary injunction against imports of live Canadian cattle. The Court concluded the ban was completely without merit and overturned it, effective immediately. It’s a significant victory for an important principle, that U.S.-American free trade benefits all our respective citizens.

We are finally at the beginning of the end of the Canadian “mad cow” saga, which began in the spring of 2003. The name R-Calf, the maniacal American cattle group who sought to keep the border closed indefinitely, will forever be burned into the minds of Canadian cattlemen. We labeled them as a lone, fringe, extremist group, but we would be wise to remember that many people on both sides of the border share their values. R-Calf personifies the anti-free-trade movement in all of its hysterical, irrational ugliness.

Their position provides a valuable insight into the hearts and minds of those who want our borders permanently shut, or at the very least highly restricted and regulated. For them, facts and reason are ignored, no argument is too ridiculous, and emotion and fear rule supreme. While claiming as cover that such actions are best for “society,” they invoke the coercive power of the state and arbitrarily and ruthlessly use it to benefit the narrow interests of a few at the expense of everyone else.

Apparently the three appeal-court judges found that R-Calf’s arguments were completely dishonest after only about 40 minutes worth of testimony. It is a great victory for the concept of free trade the court disposed of that line of thinking so quickly. The resumption and eventual normalization of the cattle trade between the U.S. and Canada highlights that the common economic fallacy that certain people or countries only believe in free trade when it benefits them. While pokey about the whole thing, most Americans were just as interested in opening the border as we were, particularly those on the meat-processing and consumer side of the equation.

Countries that are honest with themselves realize that in the long run free trade allows them ultimately to do whatever it is that they do best, and rewards them for the effort. It allows goods and services to be produced wherever they can with the most efficiency and to be delivered to where they are most needed. It means that buyers and sellers can go about their business on a voluntary basis with minimal interference. If either side is not happy with a deal, there simply is no deal. Conversely, if both sides view the transaction as beneficial, the deal takes place. Canadian cattlemen want to sell their cows to the highest bidder and American feedlots and processors want to buy them.

It’s about fairness, and respect for the individuals who engage in these transactions, without trying to tip the table in favor of one or the other through the use of low-brow, bully-boy actions. That doesn’t get our governments off the hook. Even if common sense eventually prevailed, they allowed the whole mess to drag out far longer than it should have. Our own government certainly didn’t do much to help the cause; in fact the only thing they might have done worse would have been to send Carolyn Parrish in as Canada’s official trade negotiator.

Despite such setbacks, free trade is on the move. The turnaround in the Aussie ban on Canadian salmon, the Eurocrats about-face in banning Canadian beef grown with hormones, the reversal of Japanese testing requirements on fruit, the recent International Trade Commission ruling that repealed anti-dumping duties on Canadian hogs and now the opening of the American border to live Canadian beef all confirm the trend. We don’t “always lose” trade issues. In case after case, we—and our trade partners—are winning.