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Lawmaker's View: Our friends to the north deserve better than our party rhetoric

Have you ever thought about the intricacies of trade between Minnesota and Canada and how it impacts your family's budget? Or your business' bottom line? Probably not. Most of us don't even think about Canada as being a foreign country; it's more our friendly and entwined neighbor to the north.

But make no mistake, an unnecessary trade war between our two great nations will cause more of us to experience negative effects as our economy deteriorates.

As an international trade war began taking shape, I joined five legislators from other states to visit a variety of communities in Canada. Canada's Rising State Leaders program gave me the opportunity to meet state and local government officials, visit industry and business representatives, and tour several businesses across British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. The annual program is designed to stress the importance of America's relationship with Canada — and how it benefits both countries as well as our respective states and local communities.

Canada is Minnesota's No. 1 export market. That all could change, however, given the United States' decision to slap uncalculated tariffs on our northern neighbors and in doing so declaring that Canadians pose a national-security threat.

Did you know that more than 170,000 Minnesotans earn a paycheck as a result of trade across the northern border? Or that Minnesota exports more than $5 billion in goods and services to Canada annually, making Canada Minnesota's best customer? We import more than $9.5 billion in Canadian products that power our economy, things like lumber, natural gas, electricity, and petroleum.

Looking at broader national implications, the assertion that our longtime ally — whose troops have fought and died alongside our forces overseas — poses a national-security threat is absurd. Because of our trade relations with Canada, more than 9 million Americans have jobs. Tourism dollars from Canadian visitors generate more than $16 billion annually.

However, if the trade war between our two great nations persists, consumers could pay more and businesses could lose customers. That's a recipe for an economic recession.

I am a big proponent of "buy American." At the same time, I realize America has finite resources and finite labor to produce goods and services. When domestic suppliers are unable to meet consumer demand, strong trading partners like Canada help keep prices down.

Let's face it, international-trade policy is complicated. It deserves to be crafted using thoughtful processes with the input of those on the front lines. Heated partisan rhetoric can cause lawmakers to focus on what's best for short-term political gain instead of what's best for ordinary people.

It is clear to me that extreme politics from both parties encumber effective policymaking processes. Too often both parties focus on scoring political points and holding firm to ideological lines instead of building an economy that creates good-paying jobs responsibly.

Minnesota's legislative system, as proven by the last disastrous session, has been consumed by political action rather than effective policymaking. It is high time Minnesota returns to the middle of the political spectrum and puts working families and effective policy first!

The Minnesota Legislature cannot control decisions that get made in Washington, D.C., but we lawmakers have a story to tell about how a trade war with Canada can impact our economy. Targeted tariff policies can help our local economies and preserve Minnesota jobs, such as interrupting the illegal dumping of cheap foreign products. But Canada does not employ this tactic in its trade strategies.

The bottom line is that Canada is our friend, neighbor, and ally. In Minnesota, we treat our neighbors with respect. By doing so, we stand to gain much more than if our nation continues down its current path.

Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.

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