Sunday, March 9, 2008

Canada walks softly and carries a big oil weapon

One of the few energy topics discussed in the primaries recently is the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Canada, and how those imports would be jeapordized if the U.S. “renegotiates” NAFTA. Here is a good article on this.
The issue in a nutshell is as follows. Obama and Clinton have proposed diluting NAFTA in an effort to protect U.S. manufacturing jobs from low-cost competition in Mexico; this is meant to get votes from the labor constituents of the Democratic party. However, Canada and Mexico both want NAFTA to continue because it is good for their economies. (I happen to think it is good for the U.S. also, in the long term.) So, in their defense, Canada has ominously pointed out that a renegotiation of NAFTA would allow Canada to sell more of its oil to China (and less of it to the U.S.). This would be great for Canada because they would have more weight in their relations with the booming economies of China and other Asian countries. On the other hand, Canada sits next door to the biggest oil hogs of the world, so it wants to remain in good standing with the U.S. in order to capitalize on our demand for oil.

This seems to me like an excellent use of the oil weapon (or some variation of it) by Canada. Whatever happens, they can sell their oil to China, the U.S., and other countries – if Canada extracts the oil, they will have no trouble making money off of it. In that regard, Canada has nothing to lose. The possibility that Canada is guarding against is the renegotiation of NAFTA, which would undoubtedly hurt their economy by restricting trade with the U.S. Canada knows the U.S. like a sibling, so they know how to get our attention: tell us they are selling our oil to someone else. It worked. Now, the NAFTA remarks by the Democrats are being heavily criticized, McCain is using it to his advantage, and on top of it all, Canada was able to “remind” Americans that they are our #1 oil supplier. Few other countries would be able to inject themselves into the U.S. presidential election so effectively. Well done, eh?

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