“May These Gates Never Be Closed”: U.S.-Canada Trade Relations

Harvard Canadians with Andrew Leslie, Canadian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Canada-U.S. Relations)

By Sasha Ramani, MPP 2018

In early April, the HKS Canadian Caucus led a trek to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, to explore political affairs north of the border. Thirteen students across HKS, HLS, and SEAS ventured north to reconnect with their homeland and to learn of means to get involved in Canadian politics and policymaking. The trek also offered the opportunity to reflect on the deep relationship between the U.S. and Canada, including the $2 billion of goods that daily cross the world’s longest unprotected border.

During the three presidential debates of the 2016 election cycle, NAFTA was mentioned a total of 14 times, mostly by then-candidate Trump who promised to tear up or renegotiate trade agreements. The Canadian government views international trade as an existential issue: trade accounts for 66% of Canadian GDP, compared with only 28% in the United States. Therefore, news of President Trump’s election and possible NAFTA renegotiation talks resulted in a panicked cabinet reshuffle in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

Shortly before President Trump’s inauguration, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Chrystia Freeland, the former Minister of International Trade who was involved in negotiations that resulted in the free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs. After the inauguration, Andrew Leslie, a retired Canadian Forces Lieutenant-General, was named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with a specific focus on Canada-U.S. Relations. Leslie’s position is a newly created office, and reflects the Trudeau government’s impetus to maintain strong trade relations with the United States under the Trump administration.

Leslie’s role and the high-priority afforded to it by the Trudeau government has brought him stateside several times. He and Freeland joined Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington D.C. for President Trump’s inauguration, and while Leslie has not spoken to Trump directly, he has met with several state governors and has attended a presidential lunch – where Trudeau explained the benefits of the Canadian immigration system and the importance of cross-border trade between the two nations.

In March 2017, Leslie was welcomed into the Iowa Statehouse by Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, where he touted the strong bilateral relations between Canada and the United States and said that “the U.S./Canada trade relationship is literally a model for the world.” Leslie called the free flow of goods across the border between the U.S. and Canada “paramount” to “making things happen” economically in both countries. Reciprocating his goodwill, the Iowa legislature declared March 15th “Canada Day at the Capitol.”

Quaker Oats, located in Cedar Rapids, is the world’s largest cereal company and accounts for a large share of Iowa’s agricultural economy. Leslie vociferously touted the Canadian contribution to Quaker Oats’ success, including providing the raw materials for both the cereal and boxes used in Quaker’s products. On March 15th, Governor Branstad tweeted “In 2016, $68 million of Saskatchewan oats were used to make Quaker Oats and Cheerios in Cedar Rapids #iagov #CanadaInIA” in recognition of the strong trade ties that bind together Canada and Iowa.

Leslie’s high-profile visit to Iowa was strategically arranged and choreographed. Canada is the largest trading partner to many American states, but Iowa runs a trade surplus with Canada and their supply chains are particularly interwoven. In 2016, Iowa exported $3.4 billion of goods to Canada, and imported $2.5 billion. 100,000 Iowan jobs depend on Canadian trade and investment. Furthermore, Governor Branstad is a highly-respected Republican who Leslie believes has significant clout within the Trump administration. He has also been named by President Trump as a candidate for Ambassador to China—a role that will raise his profile within the Trump administration, particularly given Chinese President Xi’s affinity for Iowa.

A trade lawyer at Harvard Law School (who preferred to remain anonymous) mentioned that Canada’s trade negotiating team is highly respected internationally. And their concerted effort appears to be paying off. A draft letter from the acting U.S. Trade Representative to Congress adopted a softer tone on NAFTA than expected, possibly indicating a different stance than what was promised during the presidential campaign.

The end of the War of 1812 is commemorated by the Peace Arch, which marks the westernmost point of the Canada-U.S. border in contiguous North America. The gate is emblazoned with the words “May these gates never be closed.” The year 2021 will simultaneously mark the Arch’s 200th year and the end of President Trump’s first term. May the gates stand open another 200 years.