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John Metzler Archive
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

U.S., Canada still enjoying fruits of Reagan-Mulroney ‘Shamrock Summit’

NEW YORK — On St. Patrick’s Day 1985, at the “Shamrock Summit,” President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney met in Quebec City and stated their intent to “reduce and eliminate existing barriers to trade and investment flows.” In a fest of bonhomie, both ethnic-Irish leaders set the framework for an extraordinary free trade future which prospers to this day. But at the time, many in the media mostly smirked that the results would be “style over substance.”


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But at the time, many in the media mostly smirked that the results would be “style over substance.” Now a quarter century later, the trading relationship between Canada and the USA is one of the world’s largest economic engines of growth.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, in an address to New York’s prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, recalled that the “Shamrock Summit” led to Free Trade negotiations and later the NAFTA agreement which saw “a tripling of trade between Canada and the United States.”

Stressing common cause and mutual economic benefit, Minister Cannon stated clearly: “Protectionist measures were a threat to our common prosperity when free trade was being negotiated more than 25 years ago. They remain a threat today.” Addressing a business audience, Minister Cannon, added: “Common sense dictates that a top priority for both governments must be job creation and economic growth.”

Today twenty-six years after Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney met on that St. Patrick’s day, Canada is the USA’s largest export market. The Minister stressed, it’s a market “larger than all 27 EU countries combined.”

Let’s look at the record. In 1985 American exports to Canada totaled $47 billion while imports reached $69 billion. The trade deficit stood at $22 billion. By 1995, the trade had surged to $127 billion in American exports with $144 billion in imports from Canada. By 2010 the free trade agreement with Canada saw $249 billion in American exports and $276 billion in imports resulting in a $28 billion deficit.

Recently Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with President Barack Obama to review relations between the two North American neighbors. Yet, Minister Cannon conceded: “As economic power shifts inexorably to Asia, Canada and the U.S. have a genuine stake in establishing new rules of engagement on trade and investment flows, using the leverage of our highly integrated economies as a springboard for mutual advantage.” He added: “Canada is also the largest and most reliable supplier of all forms of energy to the U.S., electricity, oil, gas and uranium, a flow that will only increase in the next decade.” In light of the current Middle East crisis he underscored “the importance of energy security.”

Lawrence Cannon, a Parliamentarian from Quebec Province acknowledged: “Canada needs a resurgent U.S. economy…. A more prosperous America will mean stronger global leadership by America. That, too, is something Canada would very much welcome.”

He related a number of Free Trade Agreements between Ottawa’s current conservative government as countries as disparate as Panama, Colombia, and Jordan. Turning to security interests, Cannon stated, “Canada attaches a major priority to our own hemisphere. We are working with the U.S. to help Mexico strengthen its police and judicial institutions in order to combat transnational, organized crime.”

Equally he stressed that the security perimeter on Canada’s frontier with the U.S. focuses on early threat assessments including pandemics, cross-border law enforcement, and cyber threats.

Farther afield, the fight against fundamentalist terror in Afghanistan exhibits a clear common ground between Canada and the USA: “Our military stands shoulder to shoulder with Americans in one of the most lethal regions of that country.” He added: “We have both made substantial sacrifices of blood and treasure, more so than most, in trying to stabilize this situation.” Still by July Canada will “ramp down its combat mission” and by next year, “our military commitment will shift exclusively to a training role.”

He suggested the overwhelming lesson from the Afghan commitment is “peace building as compared to peacekeeping,” adding that large parts of the successful General Petraeus strategy were “inspired” by Canada’s experience over the past 10 years. Canadian forces have suffered the third highest fatalities in Afghanistan after the Americans and the British.

Looking at the bigger picture, Cannon underscored “mutual respect and mutual trust are the hallmarks of a true partnership and a bedrock principle for relations between Canada and the U.S.” Clearly, the Canada/United States relationship is quite unique. Neither country can nor should not take each other for granted, but rather enhance their close economic, security, and political ties as reliable and friendly neighbors.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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