By Mark Wagoner: Touchet, Washington
“May these gates never be closed,” says an inscription on the Peace Arch, a monument that straddles the border between Canada and the United States. Built almost a century ago, it stands 67-feet tall, in a median for Interstate 5 and Highway 99, the roads that link Seattle and Vancouver.
Unfortunately, we’re on the verge of slamming shut this symbolic portal. In recent weeks, questions have been raised whether Canada will remain in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Leaving Canada out of NAFTA would be an economically destructive act I find hard to imagine. And I’m not alone.
Canada is our closest ally, both literally and figuratively. We share the world’s longest undefended border. We cooperate on continental defense, and Canadians serve alongside Americans in NORAD, with its famous command center in Cheyenne Mountain.
We also fight together. This week, Americans commemorated the anniversary of 9/11. It’s worth remembering that Canadians were among the first to join us in the war in Afghanistan.
We’re also great trading partners. Last year, Americans and Canadians exchanged $673 billion in goods and services. Politicians often fuss about trade deficits, but in 2018 we exported about $8 billion more to Canada than we imported from Canada. Our northern neighbor is in fact the largest export market for products labeled “Made in the U.S.A.”
As an alfalfa farmer in Washington state, I rely on Canadians. Every year, we buy their leafcutter bees. They are essential pollinators and we couldn’t grow our crops or produce our seeds without them.
Any disruption to this flow of trade in the form of new tariffs or other restrictions would damage our business. We don’t need more hassles, but fewer: Even in the best of times, the trucks that bring our bees south routinely face delays of six hours at the border. To make matters worse, the whole transaction involves a ridiculous amount of paperwork that keeps me tied down to a desk rather than working in my fields.
We should pull down barriers between the United States and Canada, not raise them up. Crossing the border at the Peace Arch, where Washington state touches British Columbia, ought to be as simple as driving from Washington to Oregon, where the only thing that stands between us is a welcome sign.
That’s how it in Europe. I’ve driven between France and Germany, countries that have gone to war within our living memory. Nothing blocks the way: Not a guard booth or even a passport-control station.
They’re part of the European Union’s common market, which could serve as a model for the United States and Canada.
Not long ago, I visited friends in Bellingham, Wash., which is near the Canadian border. We decided to have dinner at a restaurant in Vancouver. Crossing the international line near the Peace Arch, however, took more than an hour. After this pointless delay, we pledged to ourselves: We’re never doing that again.
Because of these frustrations, Americans and Canadians don’t travel back and forth the way they once did. This has hurt economies in Buffalo, Detroit, and elsewhere.
And it’s so needless. Every penny we spend to secure our northern border from those dangerous Canadians is a penny we can’t spend along our southern border, where our resources might serve an important purpose.
Fussing over Canada is a futile distraction.
I’m all for an improved NAFTA. I am hopeful the current round of negotiations will produce a good result that brings us closer together, making it easier for us to move auto parts, restaurant visits, leafcutter bees and so much more across the border. I’d love to see the United States gain access to Canada’s highly protected dairy market, for example. But I will admit, the tough talk from both sides in recent weeks worries me.
The Peace Arch has another inscription: “Children of a common mother.” Brothers and sisters can have their disputes, of course, and maybe this is just one of those times. Yet the strongest families always make up—and too much is at stake in U.S.-Canadian relations to let our present differences divide us.
Let’s keep those gates wide open. Better yet, let’s remove them altogether.
Mark Wagoner is a third-generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed. Mark volunteers as a Board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).
* A version of this column first appeared at The Hill on September 18.