A view on US President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

US President Joe Biden’s first overnight visit by a United States (US) president, in two decades to Canada, was primarily an effort to reaffirm the strength of the Canada-U.S. relationship, after the disastrous years under the Trump administration. The visit was also intended to reduce tensions created by Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, promoting protectionist “buy American” policies, and withholding vaccine supplies from Canada. 

On Friday the two leaders announced plans to further bolster the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), expand the Safe Third Country Agreement to unofficial ports of entry in order to address irregular migration, launch a one-year energy transformation task force, and offer more support to Haiti.  One of the most immediate effects of Biden’s visit was the overnight closure of the Canada-U.S. border to northbound asylum seekers, by permitting border officers to return irregular crossers to the closest port of entry. 

Both countries reaffirmed their Invest” in collective defense and security, with Canada committing to spend an additional $7.3 billion in infrastructure for the arrival of F-35 fighter jets, and another $6.96 billion on surveillance system modernization in the North.  

Most important for Biden’s global standing, he got PM Trudeau’s total support for Ukraine and commitment to impose economic costs on Russia. In addition, they both acknowledged a desire to condemn China, while finding ways to be competitive against its economy, and to collaborate on issues like climate change.  Canadians should be wary of politicians condemning countries because “big brother” demands it, since there is absolutely no reason to condemn China, and it could negatively impact on future China-Canada trade.

Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau

Canada-US trade is extremely important to both countries, Canada is the US’s second largest trading partner and was the largest purchaser of US exports in 2019.  Also, Canada’s exports to the US were 457.79 billion in 2022 and Canada’s trade surplus was 9.3 billion.  Canada must recognize that it is a critical partner in the relationship, and that her exports of crude oil to the US is critical in maintaining America’s position as one of the leading nations for exporting refined petroleum, petroleum products, gases and cars.  In fact, 17.2% of global exports from the United States by value was delivered to Canada and Mexico.

Former US president Donald Trump started the trade war with China, unfortunately Biden continued it, even though China, Mexico and Canada, in that order, were America’s largest trading partners in 2021.  America decided to stop domestic manufacturing; today she is the largest goods importer in the world, and the second largest goods exporter in the world.  The US gambled that admitting China into the WTO, and granting it Most Favoured Nation status would push China toward complying with, and internalizing WTO rules and norms and making other market-oriented changes. China did not embrace open market-oriented principles.  Instead, they continued the state-led, non-market approach to the economy and trade and lifted 800 million citizens out of poverty.  Why is the US against this positive outcome? Are free-market principles more important than people escaping poverty?

Statistics Canada data show Canada imported a record $100 billion of consumer goods, electronic and electrical equipment from China last year, and Canadian exports to China reached a historic high of $27.9 billion. Reports indicate that growth in Canada-China trade has defied pandemic trends in the past couple years.

Canada must recognize that the US does not produce the consumer goods that Canada needs, and that it is extremely difficult and costly to build an alternative supply chain infrastructure, after you have established business relationships.  More important, the United Nations Statistics Division reports that China accounted for 28.7 percent of global manufacturing in 2019 while another source reports that China’s share of world exports could be 16 percent, which is almost double the US share. Canada must prioritize Canada in making global trade decisions.

Finally, we must applaud Trudeau for refusing to join any military intervention in Haiti, and promoting the need for homegrown solutions to the crisis.  European powers and the US have been destroying Haiti since she declared her independence from France.   In 1915, U.S. troops invaded Haiti, after the President was killed, and justified its occupation under the guise of restoring order. The unpopular occupation ended in 1934, but U.S. control over Haiti’s finances lasted until 1947. U.S. troops reintroduced forced labor on road-construction projects and were accused of extrajudicial killings. Later, the U.S. supported the Duvalier family, father-and-son dictators, who reigned over Haiti with brute force until the 1980s.

In the early 90’s, the U.S. removed the democratically elected President Bertrand Aristide twice over a 15-year period and installed puppet regimes. Aristides’s sin was that he wanted to employ “socialists” policies,.  In 2010, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of about 300,000 people, and the country never really recovered, and has remained mired in economic underdevelopment and insecurity.  A cholera outbreak in 2016, linked to U.N. peacekeepers, killed at least 10,000 Haitians and sickened another 800,000.  

Canada contributed $1.5 billion as part of a global response of US$16.3 billion in pledges for rebuilding and recovery efforts.  America was in charge of the recovery operation and nothing was accomplished, except American contractors, consultants and NGOs got rich. 

PM Trudeau should divert the $100 million pledged to the police, and use it to build houses for the people, and some critical infrastructure.  And America should abandon its 1915 playbook of invasion, under the guise of restoring law and order, and leave Haiti to develop its own solutions for Haiti.

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)