Photo By: NeONBRAND from Unsplash

Well, it’s official, I’m tired of writing about the pandemic. 

There are a few reasons for this. For one, I’ve frankly said all I’ve needed to get off my chest (and more than I’m qualified to). Also, if I’m being honest, not all that much has really changed on the COVID-19 front (at least not much that warrants any substantial comment from me). Omicron is steadily ripping its way through the world, boosters are still slowly and steadily rolling out, and here in Ontario we are somewhat in limbo when it comes to further lockdown restrictions, schools reopening, and so on. 

I originally thought I’d write about my experience having COVID-19, as it went through my household just in time for Christmas. However, thankfully for my family and I, it was uneventful, just a handful of days feeling slightly under the weather. 

So having covered all interesting angles on the pandemic, and all those remaining being wholly uninteresting, I turned to non-pandemic related news. Of course, as major media outlets continue to milk Omicron dry for content, there’s little of it to be found. Because of that, I have been left with little to talk about this week. Well, little that people are likely to care about at least.

What I mean is that I’ve taken this opportunity to dig a little deeper into an incredibly interesting topic, Canada-US trade relations (please, contain your excitement). 

To start, I need you to come back with me to the far off year of 2020 (pre-March of course), just after the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The USMCA, which replaced the longstanding North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was an early pet project of the Trump administration. Shortly after Trump’s election, negotiations were triggered to reassess and ultimately replace NAFTA, much to the chagrin of both Canada and Mexico.

While at the time NAFTA was much derided (and rightfully so) for a multitude of economic, environmental, and democratic reasons, the fact of the matter is that on the whole it did provide some safeguards for the Canadian and Mexican economies that came at a cost to American enterprise. One area in particular that has long been a sticking point between Canada and the United States is in regards to the dairy industry.

Canada’s dairy industry is highly regulated, so as to provide more stability for farmers and to ensure higher quality in dairy products being sold to Canadians and exported around the world. As a result, US dairy producers by and large are not able to sell dairy products in Canada due to the incredibly high tariffs they face. This was changed slightly with the USMCA, which gives the US access to 3.6 per cent of the Canadian dairy market. Well, at least it was changed on paper.

With all of that background out of the way, now we can jump to January 2022, as Canada was just recently defeated in a trade dispute with the US regarding their failure to open the dairy market to American producers as promised in the USMCA. 

It’s important to note that while renegotiating NAFTA and reopening the debate around accessing Canada’s dairy market was originally a Trump staple, this trade dispute was fought hard and its result celebrated by the Biden administration. As with so many things, such as the treatment of migrants at the US-Mexico border just to name a quick example, Trump has ushered in a new normal in American politics, which only spells trouble for the rest of us.

The need for trade dispute mediation like in this case points to one of the major democratic concerns people have with trade agreements like the USMCA, as it clearly threatens the sovereignty of the countries involved in the agreement. Why is it that the US government should have the ability to reprimand the Canadian government for its dairy industry and trade policy? Why should they have a greater influence on our economy than Canadian politicians, or the people who voted them into power? The short answer is that they shouldn’t, and while this type of bullying behaviour made front page news when Trump was in power, this concrete action from the Biden administration has fallen on deaf ears.

There are a few obvious reasons why this is the case; one is the fact that the pandemic rages on and, as I mentioned above, it continues to dominate the headlines (sometimes rightfully so, and other times not). There’s also the undeniable reality that Trump was extremely valuable for media companies during his presidency, as he was a lightning rod for ratings, so media outlets were quick to pounce on his every word.

However, there is a larger, underlying reason why this actual attack on Canadian dairy happening right now is receiving far less attention than a threatened attack did four years ago; normalisation. 

One thing that Trump certainly did (with the support of the media and many other public figures) was normalise a lot of radical policies and political positions. This was aided by the media, who had cameras on the man every second he was President, and political commentators, who incessantly overanalyzed every movement he made and word he spoke while on camera. 

His over-exposure, mixed with the often exaggerated media dogpiling, has caused many of us to totally tune out on politics. While this response isn’t exactly unfair (as anyone who followed the news during the Trump presidency will tell you, it was exhausting), what it’s allowed the American political mainstream to do is adopt some of Trump’s positions, like his radically pro-American stance on trade, without facing anywhere near the level of criticism that Trump did when he originally voiced those positions four years ago.

So while Trump may be out of office (though that might not be for long, as he currently has his eyes set on a rematch with Biden in 2024) the effect he had on American politics won’t be soon forgotten. He has left an impact on the Democratic and Republican parties alike that will continue to have negative implications for us here in Canada and much of the rest of the world for many years to come, and not just when it comes to trade.