Carl Ek, Coordinator
Specialist in International Relations
Ian F. Fergusson, Coordinator
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
Relations between the United States and Canada, though generally close, have undergone changes in tenor over the past three decades. During the 1980s, the two countries generally enjoyed very good relations. The early 1990s brought new governments to Ottawa and Washington, and although Canada’s Liberal Party emphasized its determination to act independently of the United States when necessary, relations continued to be cordial. In early 2006, a minority Conservative government assumed power in Ottawa. It was regarded as being more philosophically in tune with the George W. Bush Administration than the Liberals were; some observers believe that this compatibility helped facilitate bilateral cooperation. The election of President Obama in November 2008 signaled a new chapter in U.S.-Canada relations; unlike President Bush, Obama is quite popular in Canada.
The two North American countries continue to cooperate widely in international security and political issues, both bilaterally and through numerous international organizations. Canada’s foreign and defense policies are usually in harmony with those of the United States. Areas of contention have been relatively few, but sometimes sharp, as was the case in policy toward Iraq. Since September 11, the United States and Canada have cooperated extensively on efforts to strengthen border security and to combat terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan. Both countries have also been active participants in the U.N.-sanctioned NATO mission in Libya.
The United States and Canada maintain the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship, one that has been strengthened over the past two decades by the approval of two major free trade agreements. Although commercial disputes may not be quite as prominent now as they have been in the past, the two countries in recent years have engaged in difficult negotiations over items in several trade sectors, including natural resources, agricultural commodities, and the cultural/entertainment industry. The most recent dispute has centered around the Buy America provision of the 2009 economic stimulus law. However, these disputes affect but a small percentage of the total goods and services exchanged. In recent years, energy has increasingly emerged as a key component of the trade relationship. In addition, the United States and Canada work together closely on environmental matters, including monitoring air quality and solid waste transfers, and protecting and maintaining the quality of border waterways.
Many Members of Congress follow U.S.-Canada environmental, trade, and transborder issues that affect their states and districts. In addition, because the countries are similar in many ways, lawmakers in both countries study solutions proposed across the border to such issues as federal fiscal policy and federal-provincial power sharing.
This report begins with a short overview of Canada’s political scene, economic conditions, security and foreign policy, and environmental initiatives, focusing particularly on issues that may be relevant to U.S. policymakers. This country survey is followed by several summaries of current bilateral issues in the political, international security, trade, and environmental arenas. The questions following each summary are designed as potential inquiries to Canadian officials to promote thought and discussion among policymakers.
Date of Report: September 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 78
Order Number: 96-397
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