George W. Bush: The anti-globalization movement's new poster boy?

By: Rachel Marsden


With Rambo wannabe, rock-throwing anti-globalization protesters getting ready to head over to the G-8 summit in western Canada's Kananaskis resort next month, they may want to consider a new poster boy for their movement: US President George W. Bush. Judging by his recent actions, it looks like Bush could very well end up spending his first few hours at the next G-8 meeting suffering a major identity crisis--trying to decide whether he should be at the table, or outside chucking rocks at the building and chanting, "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. The WTO has got to go!"

When Bush came to power, it was assumed that he would naturally be a proponent of globalization and free trade. After all, his father played a key role--along with Bush Sr. pal, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney--in the development and implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. It seemed safe to assume that the leaf wouldn't fall far from the, uh, Bush.

At a United Nations conference in Mexico earlier this year, Bush sandwiched himself between Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Mexican President Vincente Fox--the "Three Amigos", as they apparently call themselves--as he went on about how much he values North American free trade. At exactly the same moment, his henchmen in Washington were inking a deal that would slap a 29-per-cent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber. The tariff was finally implemented last week, but the move has already cost Canadians tens of thousands of jobs, and has crippled one of Canada's biggest industries. The spin-off effect will eventually ripple through the entire Canadian economy.

It's not that Bush didn't have ample opportunity to step up to the plate and hammer home an anti-protectionist message between the time the deal was drawn up and the day it was actually implemented. It would have been the perfect chance to explain to the American lumber industry, the US Department of Commerce, and their allies in Congress and the Senate that in a free-trade, free-market economy, there is no place for blatant protectionism. But, since he did nothing of the sort, one can only assume that winning seats in the upcoming Congressional election is more important to the President than actively defending his stance on free trade.

Even more recently, Bush has tossed US farmers a $180-billion pre-election bone. The gift has enormous implications for farmers and taxpayers throughout the world. Calls are already mounting for governments of other countries to subsidize their own farmers so that they can compete with what the Americans have promised to spend. So much for free trade and globalization.

In March, Bush announced a decision to impose a tariff of up to 30 per-cent on steel imports. The key steel producers affected are Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and Brazil, plus smaller makers like Sweden and Australia. EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, claims that, "the US decision to go down the route of protectionism is a major setback for the world trading system." Indeed, if one is to believe what Bush is constantly saying about how much he values free trade, it would seem that our dear Texas gunslinger rather enjoys unloading a few rounds into his own cowboy boots from time to time.

In late June, when the leaders of the world's top eight industrial nations meet in Kananaskis, the two issues at the top of their agenda are global economic growth and the fight against terrorism. What Bush needs to realize is that it is only in strengthening the former that he could we could ever hope of succeeding with the latter. Breaking down trade barriers between countries leads to more wealth, fewer victims, and less opportunity for terrorism to take hold and thrive.

Screwing over America's allies in the fight against terrorism by forcing them to contend with economy-crippling tariffs, isn't a very wise move. We Canadians are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield with our American brother and sisters. And even when your "dumb" pilot inadvertently dropped a 500-pound "smart" bomb on some of our soldiers in Afghanistan, we bit our tongues. After all, it was an accident--the friendliest of "friendly fire". We don't like it, but we get it. What we don't get, however, is how we're supposed to deal with an unpredictable Bush who appears to suffer from trade policy schizophrenia. There's nothing "friendly" or "accidental" about imposing punishing tariffs on your closest friend and ally.