Bank of CanadaÂ governor StephenÂ Poloz said Tuesday there could be room to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He was speaking after a speech in which he praisedÂ free trade, foreign investment, and immigration as cornerstonesÂ of the Canadian economy throughout history.
“There are things inÂ NAFTAÂ that are incomplete,” said Poloz, responding to an audience question after the speech.
“Softwood lumber is not inÂ NAFTA, the rules of origin are pretty complicated, and so on. So there may be things to be done to improveÂ NAFTA, so I welcome a dust-off, if you like, ofÂ NAFTAÂ in that basic sense.”
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AlthoughÂ PolozÂ didn’t explicitly refer to U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist vows to renegotiateÂ the free trade agreement, he argued in favour of NAFTAÂ and free trade in his prepared remarks.
“Many Canadians resisted continental free trade, fearing job losses, the possible loss of our health care system, and a general loss of Canadian economic or even political sovereignty,” saidÂ Poloz, according to theÂ text of his speech,Â which is available online.
“None of these concerns have come to pass, although heightened competition did result in job losses in some sectors. But these losses were more than offset by gains in other areas, and consumers have continued to benefit from lower prices and increased purchasing power as most tariffs were eliminated.”
Poloz argues against protectionism
InÂ response to another audience question, Poloz argued that people may be losing sight of the benefits of free trade asÂ protectionismÂ gains political traction around the world.
“Certainly, I think that whenever there is a tendency towards protectionism, it’s often the case that people just forget the benefits of openness. The fact that we have free trade agreements in place may mean you pay, say, 30 per cent less for a garment than you would if there wasn’t a free trade agreement in place,” said Poloz.
“But that was a long time ago, and it’s just become part of your baseline, and you don’t really think about it much. But if we were to reverse that tomorrow, it would be a huge impact on your well-being. Say you had to pay 20 per cent more for every article of clothing that you bought. Well, that would be a significant hit to your spending power.”
“History tells us that [trade protectionism] is not a recipe for progress,” said Poloz.
Openness and economic progress
In his speech, delivered to university students and alumni atÂ Durham College inÂ Poloz’sÂ hometown ofÂ Oshawa, Ont., the Bank of Canada governor argued that free trade, foreign investmentÂ and immigration all played critical roles in building Canada’s economy throughout history.
“When trade barriers are falling, when people are coming to our shores and when investment is rising, Canadians prosper. We saw this before Confederation, in the early 1900s and after the Second World War,”Â saidÂ Poloz.
“The flip side is that responding to tough economic times by turning inward rarely succeeds. We saw this after Confederation and during the Great Depression,” he said.
“The bottom line of our history is that openness and economic progress go hand in hand.”â€‹