Friday, February 20, 2009
At some point in time, just about every political person winning political office find some things said during the heat of the election campaign are easier said than done when it comes time to govern.
President Obama has embarked on his first international trip and is meeting today with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.
Canada is America’s number one trading partner for all goods and, along with Mexico, the three North American nations comprise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which removed many trade and commodity restrictions.
Approved in January 1994, NAFTA was strongly opposed by many interest groups, but hugely opposed and still hated by organized labor organizations in the US. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Candidate Obama made a number of comments stating that he would be committed to reopening discussions to renegotiate NAFTA commitments. The wooing of organized labor was a critical component in the Democratic primaries in President Obama’s successful victory.
The NAFTA process was started by President George H. Bush but ultimately it was President Bill Clinton who finished the negotiations, successfully achieved Congressional approval over the howls of protest from organized labor and signed the trade treaty into law. Presidential Candidate Obama seized on the unhappiness of labor against NAFTA and their bitter memory of President Clinton’s role in the treaty in wooing a huge portion of labor into his campaign.
The comments against NAFTA by then Candidate Obama, coupled with language inserted by Congress into the President’s Economic Stimulus package stipulating a “Buy America” clause have created tension between the two neighboring nations. Canada’s historic relationship with the US has significantly turned sour during the Bush Administration and now President Obama, in the midst of a global economic crisis of epic proportion has sincerely recognized the importance of the economic ties between our two nations. Now President Obama has backed away from comments regarding the renegotiating NAFTA.
In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Harper, President Obama reiterated the US and Canada had much to discuss and work on together including support for the military mission in Afghanistan, environmental issues including access to Canadian oil and trade issues including NAFTA.
When pressed in the media availability in Ottawa today, the President said he and the Prime Minister would work together on NAFTA’s labor and environmental provisions. Prime Minister Harper stated he had agreed with the President’s comments and was open to those discussions. That being said, the language was clear it was a discussion more of fine-tuning and not of renegotiating the treaty.
At the end of the day, the President’s trip to Canada was important and, with Prime Minister Harper’s assistance, the two neighbors are closer together then they were at the start of the day.
When campaigning, it is easy to say anything; when governing, every comment has direct and sometimes unintended consequences. Words from the campaign trail have a way of finding themselves back at your feet.
Running for office is not the same as governing in office.