Canada and the United States enjoy a bilateral relationship unique in the world. It is forged by shared geography, similar values, common interests, deep social connections and powerful, multi-layered economic ties. The result is a long-standing, deep and enviable partnership.
Little wonder, then, that the first foreign visit a newly elected U.S. president makes is very often to Canada. The visit is more than mere symbolism. It reflects the significance and durability of a relationship that has spanned more than a century.
To appreciate the depth and value of the Canada-U.S. relationship, it is important to consider it in three dimensions—economically, socially and militarily.
The Canada-U.S. economic relationship is by far the largest in the world. Trade between Canada and the U.S. dwarfs that of any other bilateral trade relationship. Trade in goods and services between the two countries totalled $645 billion in 2010—more than $1.7 billion in goods and services each day. The two economies have become so integrated, so seamless, that countless firms have developed internal production value chains that operate back and forth across the border.
Moreover, Canada is the largest energy supplier to the U.S. In fact, Canada exports more oil to the U.S. than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Canada is also a major supplier of uranium for U.S. nuclear reactors, and Canadian natural gas and electricity are integral to U.S. energy security.
But what is often not understood or appreciated is that Canada is also a huge market for U.S. exports—the biggest market for the U.S. by far. For example, the U.S. sells more to Canada than to the U.K., Germany, Japan and China combined. The Canadian market for U.S. exports is bigger than that of the entire European Union.
Those large, macroeconomic facts reflect the depth and breadth of the relationship at a social level. Indeed, every day, more than 200,000 people cross the shared border. The two countries are intimately linked by family ties, have similar immigrant cultures, and embrace common political and democratic values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Since the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940, which called for closer Canada-U.S. military cooperation, Canadian strategy has been that the two countries must defend the continent through joint efforts. This partnership has reinforced Canada’s national sovereignty and has provided Canada with security in times both of trouble and of peace.
Over the years, the Canada-U.S. relationship has deepened through a shared commitment to build a world of peace and security. During the first and second world wars, and again in the Korean War, Canadian and U.S. soldiers fought and died together. Today, they are working together to help bring peace, stability and a decent life to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.
The framework of the unique Canada-U.S. relationship has been far more than a century in the making. It reflects our shared commitment to the environment, and includes the Boundary Waters Treaty, as well as agreements on migratory species, air quality, acid rain and joint stewardship of the Great Lakes. It includes a 50-year binational commitment to NORAD’s defence of North American air space, and partnership in NATO. It is also embodied in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was based on a historic, initial Canada-U.S. free trade agreement.
But the true strength and resilience of the relationship is perhaps best illustrated when Canada and the U.S. disagree. As sovereign nations, with at times divergent interests, the two countries are sometimes confronted by difficult issues. Disagreements, such as those on softwood lumber and on beef imports, have tested the relationship. But on every occasion, because they are good neighbours and have so much in common, solutions have been found. At its core, the Canada-U.S. relationship is so strong, so mutually important, that the two nations realize the common interests that unite them are far greater than the irritants that may momentarily divide them.
There will certainly continue to be times when Canada and the U.S. disagree. No relationship with the depth, complexity and scale of these two countries’ can be trouble-free. But the positive aspects of the relationship far outweigh the negative—and enable the two countries to work together to overcome them.