It’s time to renegotiate NAFTA

Our neighbors to the north are our best friends and allies. We have so much in common, not just geographically. Our diverse cultures, our political issues and of course our economies are inextricably intertwined. Earlier this fall, I had the honor of joining a bipartisan delegation to Ottawa for an agriculture and trade discussion related to the NAFTA renegotiations. On my mission to Ottawa all of our commonalities were apparent. It was also apparent that Canada has grown a lot — economically and culturally — over the past 70 years since gaining its independence from Great Britain.

Our deferential relationship of the last century needs to be replaced with a mutual respect that recognizes a new world order. This includes a rising middle class overseas, the new global commerce —which includes the ability to buy and sell from the comfort of your sofa — and the number of nations who have, essentially, caught up with the U.S. The 20th-century need for U.S. protection or subsidization around the globe has nearly disappeared. 

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Many of our treaties and agreements with Canada originated in the 20th century.  The Columbia River Treaty which impacts those of us in the Pacific Northwest was first signed in 1964; the Pacific Salmon Treaty was first signed in 1985 and renegotiated in 1998; and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is nearly a quarter-century old. All of these were written well before the rapid rise of the internet and the growing global economy of today. It’s time to renegotiate.

In the Pacific Northwest, this starts with: revisiting the way we manage of our Pacific fisheries; opening up the softwood marketplace to real competition; updating the Columbia River Treaty; bringing fairness to the supply management of dairy; and allowing American wheat and winemakers to fairly compete.

Unfortunately, however, the outdated terms of these agreements are extremely favorable to our friends to the north. My visits with the foreign ministry, members of Parliament and the Ministry of Agriculture made it clear that Canada prefers the status quo. And from their perspective, I can see why; there is little motivation or incentive for them to update the terms.

It’s clear that a harder line needs to be taken. The current administration, for all its faults, at least recognizes this and is willing to play hardball.

The best, if not the only, way to get our Canadian friends to come to the table on the Columbia River Treaty is to issue a notice to terminate now. The termination would still take 10 years to go into effect; however, issuing the notice now would signal the seriousness with which we take this. That we still pay full freight on flood control improvements from 60 years ago, from which both sides continue to benefit, is just foolish on our part.

The current state of our wheat trade is patently unfair, and even Canadian agriculture associations and processors acknowledge that fact. The Canadians also concede that there exists a strong demand for our Oregon wine. These are the easier discussions to have. The hardest nut to crack, however, will be dairy subsidies. Less than 8 percent of Canadian farmers own the dairy quota across Canada so their stronghold enables them to jack prices up 160 percent for consumers. There’s so much room for competition here, if only negotiations allow us the opportunity to crack this monopoly.

Our two economies are deeply intertwined. And to be clear, that is as it should be. But it’s never been more apparent than it is today that the younger sibling has grown up and can now pull its weight. It is time for our two great countries to acknowledge that we’re standing on equal footing. For the benefit of our shared North American leadership around the globe, it’s time to bring these treaties into the 21st century.

Schrader represents Oregon’s 5th District and is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.