CLOSE AS the two countries are geographically, a great asymmetry characterizes the relationship between the United States and Canada. The latter necessarily focuses a lot more on the former than vice versa. And Canadians, as much as they generally like and appreciate the United States, worry about it, too. They worry U.S. media will overwhelm theirs; that U.S. imports will flood their markets; and that the United States will close its markets to their exports. These concerns, rational or not, exist even at times, unlike the present, when that relationship is going well. Accordingly, there will be no solution to the current dangerous impasse over hemispheric trade if the Trump administration fails to take Canada’s concerns into account.
So far, however, President Trump has gone out of his way to hector Canada over the purported unfair advantages it gets from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he seeks to renegotiate. Now time is running out before the Sept. 30 deadline for the Trump administration and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reach a deal, complementary to the one Mr. Trump already struck with Mexico, that would salvage NAFTA.
Both sides say publicly they are far apart, with the sticking point being Chapter 19 of NAFTA, one of those issues that matters immensely north of the border yet barely registers in the public mind south of it. Basically, Chapter 19 allows Canada to bypass U.S. courts and take the United States to arbitration when it attempts to impose penalties for allegedly improper Canadian exports to the United States — especially the perennial bilateral irritant known as softwood lumber. Canada insisted on this as a sop to its own nationalists back when it proposed the first Canada-U.S. free-trade pact during the Reagan administration, and President Ronald Reagan understood the wisdom of meeting Canada halfway on this point. Mr. Trump, by contrast, has insisted on getting rid of Chapter 19 and has succeeded in persuading Mexico to abandon the version that applied to it.
For Canada, though, Chapter 19 still seems a dealbreaker, even if, truth be told, its importance today is more symbolic than economic. The best — indeed, the obvious — approach for Mr. Trump would be to concede most or all of what Canada wants on Chapter 19, which is, after all, a matter of legal procedure, in return for some concession in a substantive area, such as a relaxation of Canada’s unwarranted protection against U.S. milk products. The advantages of such a compromise have been apparent to experts on U.S.-Canada trade for some time, and you would think they would be evident to Mr. Trump’s negotiators as well.
We hope the Trump team’s dramatic statements Tuesday about “running out of time” to include Canada in a new hemispheric deal were just last-minute posturing before a deal gets done. Congress would look askance at a U.S.-Mexico-only trade pact, as it should. For reasons both economic and political, such an agreement would not work, and would gratuitously isolate the United States from a democratic country that has been something even more valuable than a neighbor: a friend.