A Fair Deal?

At Donald Trump’s insistence that the US is being treated unfairly under the North American Free Trade Arrangement, negotiations will reopen today on the terms and conditions settled more than 20 years ago.

When the concept of the North American Free Trade was introduced in 1990, it raised questions, concerns, and anger, in Canada. This country was still trying to deal with the trade agreement reached with the United States in 1987.

I, then, was vocal about the proposed deal. To add Mexico to what seemed to be an already imbalanced arrangement did not make economic sense. This column was the first of many I wrote in my newspaper days.

Since then, both Canada and the U.S. have felt the effects of the deal. Mexico’s cheap labour was a draw for many manufacturing plants. The auto industry alone, especially in the US, took a major hit.

Indeed, there have been changes over the past few decades, and there are issues within the agreement that could be updated, and segments of the economy that could benefit from new language.

Trump says NAFTA will be renegotiated or “torn up” because it is not fair to the United States (which currently enjoys a $16 billion trade surplus with Canada). He says he has studied the document, and he will get the best deal possible for America.

I, as one opposed to the initial deal, have no problem seeing the terms renegotiated.

The problem I have is dealing with the current US administration. Trump’s interpretation of what is, and what is not, fair needs to be questioned, especially after hearing his statements about the civil unrest last weekend, and his definition of right and wrong.

From 1990. . .

   Are we short of piñatas?
   Are Canadian yuppies dissatisfied with the present stock of Mexican beer?
   It is difficult to perceive a shortage of either commodity, and possibly for that reason, even more difficult to comprehend any reason to enter into a trade deal with Mexico.
   Granted the deal is via the United States and, in the shadow of Operation Desert Storm, the Canadian government has overwhelmingly expressed the willingness to latch onto the britches of the Bush administration.
   Yet why are we so willing to participate in this trilateral deal?
   The benefits of the late ’80s U.S. – Canada Free Trade Agreement are still not clear.
  We are in the midst of what has been called the first made-in-Canada recession. Our economic policy partially dictated this slump. But it is interesting to note the recession comes not long after the ink dried on the U.S. deal. The free trade agreement shot holes through the shield that protected Canada’s business environment,
   Companies have closed up shop claiming they cant compete with our southern neighbors in a no-holds-barred trading match. Business closings have fueled unemployment which in turn fed inflation resulting in retrenchment, and then. . . recession.
   The tri-country trade deal can only further this effect.
  Political pundits spread the news of this glorious market of over 300 million consumers which will be created by the three-party transaction. But let’s face it, in this economy few Canadian companies have the liquidity — let alone the manpower — to compete with other partners to the deal.
   After all, we are not competing on a level playing field.
   As much as we have cared to, the trade deal with the U.S. has been accepted. We are already partners to a contract with a country that pays less regard to its quality of life than we do.
   So why add another country with even less regard for its land and its people?
  Historically, Canadian government’s have gone to great lengths to protect the social and economic fabric of the nation. Our elected officials provided virtually unlimited access to healthcare and through legislation protected the countriy’s business from the competition of the global market. We had tariffs and duties and a host of programs that offered buoyancy to the economy. We continued to supplement the agricultural sector so our products and the producers could survive.
   These programs were supported by our tax dollars and although heavily taxed, our demands for higher wages were met. Canada enjoys a high-wage scale that is necessary to support our tax base.
   The root of the fierce argument against the trade deal is wages. Canada is fortunate to be a top-wage nation. The U.S. could be considered the middle-ground, but as we go south the wage scale drops right off.
  Canadian manufacturers fear heavy competition from companies producing goods in Mexico, and that fear is founded. Labour costs — indeed a big cost of doing business — are more than dramatically reduced for competitors in the south.
  It is accepted the expanded market created by the merge would feature over 300 million consumers. But based on his or her average wage, is the average consumer from poverty-stricken Mexico even able to afford the goods produced by trading partners to the far north?


Look Closely At Your Selection

Farmer’s Markets and produce stands are, right now, brimming with nature’s bounty. Vegetables and fruit — blueberries and blackberries now in season — are boasting the ever-changing colours of life.

This is the season for the senses, with an abundance of healthy, natural food packed with nutrients and flavor. This is the time of the year we seem to pay more attention to what we eat. The selection and quality are all right there, fresh and ready for the taking.

The adage “you are what you eat” becomes evermore obvious. But it is more than that. We are everything we ingest: food, drink, information and culture.

Yes, the ingredients of our diet — whether a carnivore, herbivore, or an omnivore — is the easiest to track, because food is considered both a habit and a necessity. We are naturally, and physically, aware of the six to eight hours it takes for a meal to travel through our body from consumption to elimination.

The politics or the poetry we absorb is not as easy to trace, and, generally, remains with us a whole lot longer.

As we are, or should be, conscious of the sugar, salt, and fat in our sources of food, we should also be keenly aware of the loving thoughts, negative attitudes, insults and nuclear threats to our lives.

If all we are is food, our lives would not be as nearly as complete or complicated.

We can, and should, enjoy each meal. It should always be more than simply sustenance, as should the literature we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have with families and friends.

We feed our bodies with food, our minds and souls with people and the naturally-occurring daily drama. So as we carefully select our groceries, we should pay the same attention to what we watch, the information we take in, and the knowledge we hold.

It is our choice.

With the number of television channels and streaming services, it should be easier than ever to select a quality documentary or drama. With libraries and electronic access to a greater selection of titles than ever before, summer reading should last straight through to December. There need not be a moral to everything, but it should be more than junk food for the mind.

We can choose to listen to the ramblings and rhetoric of talk radio, or we can tune out and tune into any style of music that will uplift the spirits and wipe out the white noise. The menu is all about choice.

And, just as you scrutinize the display of peaches or packets of berries, you should also look closely at your other choices in life.

Are you sated by what you take in? Are you nourished by your relationships? Are you making healthy choices?

You are what you eat, yes, but you are so much more.

Opportunities and Possibilities

Everywhere, every single day, we are confronted with limitations. What we can do, and where we can (or can’t) do it is spelled out on signs, in court documents and governmental decree.

It gets pretty heavy, and quite negative most of the time. Within minutes of reading this you will surely come across directions that will steer you away from something, or remind you that you just can’t.

I know I’m tired of rules and regulations, boundaries, orders, and 24-hour limitations. There are far too many do nots and thou shalt nots, and the word NO is too direct and just damn bossy.

While I respect and, yes, understand the need for law and order, I feel we, as a society, dwell too much on directive instead of focusing on the opportunities available to us. I’ve taken the liberty of offering some everyday possibilities (please feel free to add to the list).

WE can, and WE should:

  • Compliment strangers on tattoos, neckties, and the proper use of manners (and chopsticks).
  • Eat more quinoa and spinach, or kale (if you want to be trendy).
  • Breathe a little deeper.
  • Think more about meditating (which in itself may be meditation enough).
  • Wear T-shirts that say something (or nothing at all).
  • Visit a place you’ve never seen with a person you don’t see enough.
  • Pick up the phone and use it as it was intended. Ignore the texts and data, for even just a day, and communicate.
  • Replace well-worn, much-loved records that no longer do the music justice. Install a new needle in the turntable.
  • Read a biography once in a while and learn how an actor, artist, or even a politician dealt with their shit.
  • Write down your dreams, even the scary ones.
  • Look across the table and decide if that person is truthful, respectful, and worthy of your time. Ask yourself if you are as well.
  • Drive less, but still go places.
  • Cultivate kindness.
  • Remember places, people, and things once important to you; that includes your morals and ethics.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Cook the next recipe you see in a magazine. Get away from the same ‘ol-same ‘ol tastes by trying new ingredients and spices.
  • Put away your mobile device when walking down the sidewalk. How much life is passing you by just because your head is down?
  • Try out a new fragrance. You were a different person when you selected your last favorite scent. Smell like the present.
  • Purchase new bedsheets. Comfort is important 24 hours a day
  • Smile more often. Sometimes it’s hard, I know, and you don’t see a lot of shiny happy faces walking down the street. We can all change that just by smiling more, and smiling back.
  • Turn off the television, turn up the silence.
  • Clean behind the fridge.
  • Try to live tomorrow a little better than today. Repeat daily.
  • Rid yourself of a bad habit by embracing a new one.
  • Keep a list of things you want to do. Stroke items off the list as you progress.
  • Expand your mind. Take a class in something; pottery, painting, anthropology, tax peperation.
  • Expand your vocabulary. Do a crossword puzzle, play Scrabble, or pick random words out of the dictionary.
  • Buy yourself new underwear. Would your mother approve of what you are wearing now?
  • Practice yoga, take spin classes, run, climd, or bowl: do something that gets your blood pumping.
  • Set the table with your finest china and light a candle, even if you are dining alone.
  • Invite a neighbor over for dinner. You’ve already taken the time to set a nice table..
  • Do something you’ve never done before, and always be prepared to try new things.
  • Know the rules. This is especially important if you intend on breaking them.

Be grateful for what we have and appreciate all we have been through. It’s taken a while to get here, and you’ve survived your fair share of bad days and emotional traffic. Thinking of what you’ve done is far more productive than being told what you can’t.

Please feel free to add to the list by clicking on comment (up above). What should you be doing?