The "multi-" in trade is as complex as it is in culture. There is no telling where the complex world of multi-lateral trade agreements can co, but the WTO's relative stalemate at the Hong Kong table instructs us: agreement by committee is no way to pursue aggressive trade liberalization. It is in individual countries best interest to seek bi-lateral agreements - and for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico the trade framework should be a heightened agenda to improve cross-border trade, to build upon NAFTA.
Michael Hart and Bill Dymond are senior trade policy experts, and their recent article found in the February 2006 issue of Policy Options (see http://www.irpp.org/) spells out Canada's need to step back from the multi-lateral framework and focus on trade issues with the United States:
"The simple fact is that Canada's most basic economic interests are now inextricably bound up with those of the United States and can no longer be addressed multilaterally in the WTO."
"Today, however, further multilateral negotiations can make at best a marginal contribution to the most pressing Canadian trade and economic interests. Instead, the opportunities lie in elaborating the bilateral Canada-US agenda and crafting an accommodation with the United States that is commensurate with the reality of deep and irreversible cross-border integration. That agenda involves creating a less intrusive border, pursuing a more deliberative strategy of regulatory convergence, and establishing institutional capacity to manage deepening and accelerating integration. None of these issues can be addressed multilaterally, but they will be at the heart of Canadian tradecraft for the next generation."
North American integration is our best hope for continued economic growth. Better we work on bringing down trade barriers that affect our most important trading relationship than wait for the utopian outcome that is so distant at the WTO table.