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Canada and United States share more than bordercomment (0)

February 5, 2009

By Martine G. Bates


Canada and the United States have the world’s longest shared border, are the world’s largest trading partners and have intricately linked defense structures. With its southern neighbor 10 times larger both in wealth and in population, Canada has been fearful of being overwhelmed at times.

In a frequently quoted speech given to the Washington Press Club in 1969, then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Forty years later, the two nations continue to have strong ties while Canada still struggles to maintain its national identity. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with former President George W. Bush several times after taking office in 2006. According to the U.S. State Department Web site, Harper’s goal is to bring a “positive tone to bilateral relations while still defending Canadian interests.”

Prior to World War II, the two nations were less friendly. Each had a defense plan for a potential invasion by the other. After collaborating during the two world wars, animosity and distrust faded, and since that time, the nations have had a cordial relationship, partnering in many ventures. Tensions between the United States and Canada have been primarily minor, centered on national boundaries, trade policies, foreign policy and environmental issues.

Several boundary disputes remain unresolved by the United States and Canada, most of them based on differing interpretations of the equidistance principle, which divides the distance between two nations in half if there is less than 200 nautical miles between the borders. The underlying basis for the refusal of both nations to relinquish claims to the disputed areas is the presence of rich natural resources.

For many years strong trading partners, the United States and Canada have seen trade between the two nations impacted by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) according to John Dickson of the U.S. Department of State. In a speech made to a joint U.S./Canadian governmental group, Dickson pointed out that trade, commerce and travel have all been increased by the 1994 agreement, with the exports of manufactured goods and agricultural products up dramatically.

A 2003 study commissioned by the Canadian Embassy in the United States revealed that trade between the United States and Canada supported 5.2 million U.S. jobs, including 72,000 in Alabama.

As of November 2008, trade between the two nations was estimated at $1.5 billion each day.

Even so, there are concerns on both sides of the border about some provisions of the agreement, and polls show that, although Canadians support the agreement, most feel that the United States benefits more than Canada.

An ongoing trade issue is the import of prescription drugs into the United States from Canada. The nationalized health-care system in Canada has price controls that keep drug prices far below that of the U.S. market. Laws have been passed in the United States at the national level to restrict sales of Canadian drugs, but laws in some locales at the state and local level still allow the sales.

In the areas of defense and foreign policy, the two nations work together in most cases, with a few notable exceptions. The most recent exception was Canada’s refusal to join the United States-led coalition in Iraq, although they have contributed financially to Iraq’s reconstruction, and they have sent troops to Afghanistan.

According to the U.S. State Department, U.S. defense arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country. The two nations share mutual security agreements under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and jointly operate the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). A 2006 NORAD agreement added a maritime component to the joint venture, surveying the air and sea for potential enemies and illegal drug shipments.

Neither nation enforces the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty sponsored by the United Nations to control greenhouse gases; although Canada has ratified it, Prime Minister Harper has declined to enforce it because of internal controversy.

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