Why Canadians will never give up American products


When I moved to New York a decade ago, my family and friends in Canada turned me into their cross-border mule.

It was never drugs, alcohol or cigarettes that I was asked to smuggle across the border to avoid paying a hefty tariff or Canada Customs duty.

It was refrigerator screws, a barbecue cover, and camera and bicycle parts — items that Amazon and other online retailers in the US just don’t bother shipping north of the border because of the myriad and dizzying array of tariffs and taxes that Canada charges its citizens on goods they buy in the U.S.

So when Canadians responded to President Trump’s recent war of words with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over free trade by promising to cancel their US vacations and boycott American products last week, I was skeptical.

While many Canadians are threatening never to consume Kentucky bourbon and Florida oranges, they are unlikely to give up shopping in the US — a pursuit as quintessentially Canadian as curling and maple syrup.

Despite huge tariff barriers and taxes that act as a virtual wall between the world’s longest international border, Canada imported a total of $98.9 billion in products from the US in the first four months of 2018, according to the US Census Bureau.

Skirting those tariffs is a national sport.

My brother has become a master. He once had a rowing machine shipped to my colleague’s tiny Union Square studio apartment, where it languished for days until he made the 10-hour drive each way to haul it back to Ontario in his truck.

He never fully explained how he hid the equipment from Canada Customs officials when he had to drive across the border. But had he shipped it directly to Canada he would have paid exponentially more than the $2,000 sticker price. In fact, it would have cost him an extra $360.08 in federal and provincial taxes, and $169.05 in Canada Customs duty.

Despite feel-good government initiatives that urged us to “Buy Canadian,” we knew that the good stuff was always in the US.

In the early 1980s, my brother and I used to make the two-hour drive to Buffalo from our home in Toronto to buy blue jeans. Back then, you couldn’t find Levis 501s in Canada at any price.

Across the border, they were $15 at The Gap. We rolled up our old pants and stuffed them in the trunk of the car, and wore our new jeans for the ride home.

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