By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, USDR.
“[Former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez told me once that if he approached from the south and we approached from the north, we could attack the United States. I told him that we gave up on that idea around 1815.” – Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
At the recent International Petrochemicals Conference (IPC), sponsored by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the featured speakers were a panel comprised of former United States Vice President Dick Cheney, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and former Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The three leaders discussed topics varying from those domestic to North America to things happening all around the world, from trade and the situation on the US-Mexican border to Venezuela, Russia, climate change, energy, and populism. This installment will deal with trade, border security, and Venezuela.
In general, Prime Minister Harper was the most verbose and entertaining of the three and seemed quite comfortable with pointing out his own achievements – when asked to name his greatest achievement in politics, he said that was difficult to pick only one, because there were so many. Vice President Cheney, unsurprisingly, was laconic and dry. President Calderon, while sometimes hindered by language, was straightforward and insightful. The discussion was lively and insightful. While there was little disagreement among the three, all each had an interesting perspective, based on their respective country.
Unsurprisingly, trade was the first issue to be introduced. All three agreed that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had been an unqualified success for all three nations. Harper observed that in Canada, the success was so widely accepted that “NAFTA effectively killed protectionism as an issue in Canada”, and pointed out that it was built on its predecessor, the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement and that the “Canada-US trade relationship is the largest in the history of the world”. He also expressed surprise that the opposite attitude had arisen in the United States, relating that President George W. Bush had told him in 2006 that they could never get NAFTA passed in today’s climate. Calderon agreed with Harper’s assessment, calling NAFTA “an important case of success”. He pointed to the fact that $1.5 billion in trade between the US and Mexico occurs every day and that Mexican businesses and individuals are the largest purchasers of US-made goods and services – “more than China, Japan, and the UK combined”.
On the successor to NAFTA signed last year, the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA), all three expressed their approval, but with caveats. Calderon said that “we will continue to have mostly free trade, but [the agreement has] some restrictions that were not needed.” Harper agreed, saying that President Trump “achieved his objective – Canada didn’t get any wins”, but adding “it’s still a good deal” and that “it will pass in Canada”. He did note, however, that the Canadian Parliament was in no hurry to ratify the pact – until it passes the United States Congress, Canada has no incentive to hold a vote.
Harper later addressed the broader issue of trade – he stated that when he assumed the office of Prime Minister, Canada had only 5 free trade agreements; when he left office, they had agreements in place with 51 countries. Cheney, nodding in agreement as the other two talked, used the moment to comment on current US trade policy: “I would not take the course President Trump has taken. I’m more of a free trader.”
On Venezuela, the three lamented the current state of affairs in the country, and all three had pointed words about the Venezuelan President Maduro. Cheney said that “there has to be a change in government before there’s any improvement”. Harper agreed, but noted that Maduro, whom he called “probably the single worst person I’ve ever met”, is not really in charge; rather, “the military really runs the government” and maintains power through the trafficking of narcotics. He said that “the damage that has been done is really deep”, pointing to the “exodus of the educated and professional class” from Venezuela. Calderon observed that the current inflation rate is 1,000,000%, stating flatly and emphatically that “Maduro is stupid and cruel.”
Discussion then turned to border security, immigration, and the wall. Unsurprisingly, Calderon expressed his displeasure with the border wall, saying that “every country has the ability to set policy, but if you want to build something ugly in your backyard, your neighbor doesn’t pay for it” and adding that “China built a wall a few thousand years ago; look at it today: it’s useless.” Cheney was pointed in his criticism as well. Calling immigration a “blessing” and “a tremendous national asset”, he especially criticized President Trump’s use of the declaration of a National Emergency: “the idea that we are going to take money out of defense to build the wall is absurd, makes no sense at all.” Harper elicited laughs when declared that “there’s nothing in it for Canada to get in US-Mexico relations”, but he did seem later to hint at his position when he named as one of his proudest accomplishments the fact that “Canada has the largest per capita immigration program in the world.”
Part 2 will report on the topics of hydrocarbons, energy, and climate change, Russia, and the global spread of populism.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Make sure to check out Dave’s popular series, “Profiles in Liberty” at USA Daily Chronicles. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.