Trade deal crucial for Saskatchewan

We have a trade deal and here in Saskatchewan that is a very big deal.

Our livelihoods depend on trade.

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And that especially applies to trade with the United States, which is why the 11th hour United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement to replace the old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was so critical.

In 2017, 55 per cent of all Saskatchewan exports went to the United States, $15.6 billion out of $28.5 billion. However, you may be surprised to know that 85 per cent of Saskatchewan imports in 2017 ($9.8 billion out of $11.5 billion) came from the U.S.

You get the picture.

Trade is one of those issues so critical to us all that politics needs to put aside in its discussions, although that certainly didn’t happen in either the lead up or aftermath of the recent USMCA deal.

Both the federal Conservatives and NDP felt it necessary to chastise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for the deal it negotiated, a deal that surely seemed a near impossible one, given the outrageous demands from U.S. Donald Trump’s administration like forcing Canada to end supply management in Canada and eliminating dispute settlement mechanisms like NATFA’s chapter 19.

In fairness, those of you with long memories will recall that the original Canada-U.S. free trade deal 30 years ago came with adamant Liberal and NDP opposition to Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s free trade deal. We fought the 1988 election over this issue.

Sadly, some things don’t change enough.

But the fact of the matter is trade is as important for both our agriculture and trade-based economy now as it was back then.

So notwithstanding the multiple reasons why western Canadians have legitimate reasons to be angry with the Trudeau government and policies like the carbon tax, we should be happy with what the federal government has accomplished.

And credit Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe for recognizing the importance of all this.

“We are pleased with the way the negotiations have come out, to allow us access for our agriculture, manufacturing, our energy industry as well as our mining industry products to flow across North America,” Moe told reporters during a press conference last week after the signing of the deal.

Admittedly, Moe and others do have legitimate reasons for misgivings, not the least of which is U.S. President Donald Trump’s use of Section 232 of his country's Trade Expansion Act to still impose 25 per cent tariffs on Canadian steel for, allegedly, reasons of national security.

For Moe, this remains disconcerting because it is having a big impact on Regina-based Evraz Steel.

However, given the aforementioned imports from the U.S., Moe notes that such tariffs also have potential impact on Seed Hawk, Bourgault, Honey Bee and Morris Farm Industries, all farm implement manufacturers located in rural Saskatchewan that buy specialized steel and sell their products into U.S. markets.

Such trade concerns flow throughout Saskatchewan’s economy.

For example, the Saskatchewan Stock Growers’ Association noted the fall cattle run is just starting and losing duty-free access to the U.S., always a distinct possibility because it’s something that’s certainly happened in the recent past, is a frightening prospect. Approximately   three quarters of all Canadian beef exports go the United States.

“We’re coming into our busy time of year,” said Stock Growers general manager Chad MacPherson, adding that he has heard stories of disclaimers in contracts that could have rendered them “null and void” if there was market disruption through a failed trade deal.

The main crux of it is that we maintain what we had, and we didn’t lose anything,” MacPherson said.

Many are all too aware of how much not having a trade deal could cost us.