Small and medium-sized businesses – including family farms – have long been engines of prosperity and economic growth for communities across North America. Sadly, this engine is at risk of losing steam in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the United States. This ill-advised edict has already ignited a trade war with countries across the globe – many who are steadfast U.S. allies, including our neighbors Canada and Mexico among them.
As governor of one of the largest of the 50 states – one that is so clearly dependent on the free flow of trade – I have good reason for concern. The new Ohio we are building includes many industries and emerging technologies that will only become stronger with trade. And agriculture, my state’s largest and oldest industry, is equally dependent on trade. Our plan for Ohio’s future is centered on getting our products and technologies, our crops and raw materials to world markets – and then importing those things we can’t make or grow on our own.
That model has served us well, and nowhere has it been more mutually rewarding than in Ohio’s trade relationship with Canada. Last year, Ohio exported nearly (US) $19-billion to Canada – fully 38 per cent of our total world exports – and we imported (US) $12.2-billion from Canada in return.
As long as trading countries abide by the same rules, free and open trade produces competition, which leads to greater innovation and ultimately improves quality of life on both sides of the trade transaction. It encourages each state or country to focus on those products and services it produces best, and then to continue improving its offerings and discovering new ones to serve markets worldwide.
Even more important, trade is essential to building lasting geopolitical relationships that bind us together and promote peace. Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan said it best: “The freer the flow of world trade, the stronger the tides of human progress and peace among nations.”
Recently, Canada and 10 other countries from the Pacific Rim region agreed to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Missing from that agreement was the United States, as the Trump administration chose to emphasize its “America First” mindset and withdraw from an earlier agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Instead of looking to the United States for support, partner countries spurned by the President’s action now look to creating free-flowing trade relationships without us. Even worse, the emerging countries among them may now be easier prey for China, Russia and other repressive regimes seeking to expand their influence. Those who do not hold our two countries’ shared goals and best interests at heart will be free to shape the future rules, regulations and norms by which global business is conducted. All this will cause serious harm to the future economic security of the United States, Canada and our allies around the world.
As a former member of the U.S. Congress who served for 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, I remain convinced that trade is essential to global security: building alliances, helping keep the peace and encouraging democratic progress around the globe. And because our global framework of shared security and prosperity rests on the keystone of free, rules-based international trade, the United States must work with partner nations to modernize agreements such as the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA), not jettison it. We need to be more connected, not less. We need a strengthened trade agenda to reflect the realities of the modern economy – digital, flexible, agile and connected.
Any serious discussion of global security must address head-on the interconnected nature of our economies and the future of trade. These questions are too important – and there is now too much at risk. The United States must repair its damaged partnership with worldwide allies. And the first, most important place to start that repair is with our friend and neighbors to the north and south.
This column originally appeared in the Toronto (Canada) Globe and Mail.