Canada's ferocious NAFTA growl

Don't worry your head about whether Obama lied about the free trade agreement. The real story is a threat by that petro-state up north to turn off the oil spigot.

Published February 28, 2008 11:25PM (EST)

One of Thursday's spiciest Democratic campaign controversies has been the report out of Canada, citing unnamed sources, that an Obama campaign official told the Canadian government not to worry about the senator from Illinois' anti-NAFTA "rhetoric." It wasn't "serious," he reputedly said.

The Obama campaign and the Canadian government are both vigorously denying that any such conversation took place. How the World Works is inclined to believe them if only because it defies comprehension that a campaign as well run as Obama's would do anything so stupid. (Dirty trick, anyone?) Understandably, the Clinton campaign was delighted to hear the news, even though there is a paucity of evidence that Hillary Clinton's commitment to renegotiating NAFTA is any more sincere than Obama's. But that didn't stop machinist union president and Clinton surrogate Tom Buffenbarger instantly proclaiming that "working families cannot trust a candidate who telegraphs his real position to a foreign government and then dissembles in a nationally televised debate."

Buffenbarger, avid campaign followers will recall, is the fellow who called Obama "Janus, the two-faced Roman god of ancient times" and dismissed his supporters as "latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies."

But all this focus on whether the Obama campaign actually fumbled the NAFTA ball in such a spectacular fashion misses the real point, which is the opportunity for a refresher course in U.S.-Canadian trade relations.

Question: Who is the largest supplier of energy resources to the United States?

Answer: Canada.

Canada exports more crude oil to the United States than any other nation, including Saudi Arabia. All of that oil, along with a gusher of natural gas, comes free of any kind of export controls or tariffs, courtesy of NAFTA. In fact, the United States consumes almost 100 percent of Canada's energy exports.

Which undoubtedly puts Canada in the driver's seat should a new president of the United States decide he or she wanted to "renegotiate" NAFTA.

David Emerson, Canada's trade minister, took some pains to remind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of U.S. dependence on foreign (Canadian) oil on Thursday, according to a Globe and Mail story a reader kindly forwarded to me.

Americans' privileged access to Canada's massive oil and gas reserves could be disrupted if Washington cancels the NAFTA accord as Democratic presidential candidates threaten, Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson warned yesterday.

"There's no doubt if NAFTA were to be reopened we would want to have our list of priorities," he said.

In other words, if you Yankees think you can wave a magic wand and "renegotiate NAFTA" so as to be more beneficial to Americans at the expense of Canada's interests, think again, because we'd be happy to close off the oil spigot and sell our crude, to, oh, I don't know, China.

Don't mess with Canada!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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