President Bush and Prime Minister Harper Discuss the Future of Globalization

by Laura Collins

The George W. Bush Institute and the Canadian American Business Council hosted a roundtable conversation with President Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and business executives from across the U.S. and Canada. The conversation focused on the future of globalization and how to address the challenges that are driving populist and nationalist movements worldwide.

These two men led countries with a longstanding friendly relationship. The U.S. is Canada’s only next door neighbor. We share the longest undefended border in the world. And with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and later the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), these countries became even more closely tied. Together with Mexico, the U.S. and Canada form the world’s most economically competitive region.

The economic integration brought by NAFTA has certainly benefitted North America on a macroeconomic level. Across the continent, there has been an increase in trade within the region, an increase with trade around the world, millions of jobs created, GDP growth, and an astonishing 318 percent increase in foreign direct investment.

Consumers, particularly in the lower and middle classes, benefit from our economic integration with a wider variety of goods and fresh produce available at affordable prices year round.

Around the globe, too, globalization has lifted millions of people out of the worst poverty, improving quality of life and contributing to the relative stability and security the world has experienced since the end of World War II. As these people have entered the middle class, they are increasingly our customers, buying more and more of the goods and services we are best at producing.

And yet there are some people — sometimes entire communities — who do not feel that they reap the benefits of an interconnected world. The reasons vary, but the outcomes are the same: stagnating wages, job skills that do not match up to the current market, and for some, the realization that entire industries are disappearing.

Both leaders agreed that globalization is inevitable, but our policy choices do shape it into what we want it to be. Policies are needed to address the needs of the communities who feel they have been left behind, however. While our countries are similar, the U.S. and Canada have fundamental structural differences in our governments. Naturally, these differences necessitate that each country take its own unique approach to addressing these challenges while also learning from each other’s example.

Targeted public policy solutions, such as effective job retraining for those out of work and innovative economic development that attracts new industries, can revitalize the areas hardest hit by trade and the technology boom, spreading the prosperity gains of globalization to everyone. Skills-based immigration reform complements our workforce while boosting economic growth. Infrastructure, too, can be a tool that enables the manufacturing supply chains across the continent to maximize productivity. These are not protectionist policies that have numerous unintended consequences, but smartly focused strategies that plug our workers into the global economy.

We cannot, nor should we, fight against globalization. But we can help the few left in its wake.