Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sept. 24 said Washington's uncompromising national security stance since the 2001 attacks is hampering Canada's wish to expand free trade in the Americas. He also expressed concern in a rise in protectionist and nationalist sentiment in the U.S. as the 2008 presidential race gears up.
"My own sense is that any talk of deepening NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) or strengthening trade relationships on this continent is not going to happen in the immediate future," Harper said.
"My conclusion after a year and a half in this job is that ... the U.S. government post-September 11 has very much become pre-occupied with security, and security that has very much a strong emphasis on national sovereignty and national borders. And I think that until we're able to couple that somewhat better, that the prospects of deepening our economic relationship are limited."
At present, 80% of Canadian exports head south to the U.S. and 66% of Canada's imported goods originate in the U.S. In an attempt to "diversify and deepen" its trade linkages, Canada has recently begun negotiating free trade pacts with Colombia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Jordan, Harper noted.
He went on to say that he is "deeply concerned" about the buzz in the United States ahead of presidential elections next year with "populism, protectionism, and nationalism in an unhealthy sense running through it. It bothers me, it concerns me, particularly vis-a-vis Canada," Harper said, evoking Canada's strong historical trade and diplomatic ties to the United States. "Anybody who questions the importance of that (relationship) or who works contrary to those interests, I think is not serving the public very well."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007