What are the chances that Canada will export water to the U.S. in the foreseeable future? Slim, says the Canadian government. But maybe there's a better alternative to the US's water woes: the exportation of water-intensive commodities.
Although bulk water itself is not a tradable commodity, agricultural commodities – that generally consume a lot of water during production – are increasingly being traded. As a result, water use within a nation is no longer an appropriate indicator of national water demand, at least not if one takes the consumer’s perspective. ...The water footprint of a country is defined as the volume of water needed for the production of the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the country. The internal water footprint is the volume of water used from domestic water resources; the external water footprint is the volume of water used in other countries to produce goods and services imported and consumed by the inhabitants of the country.
Canada's dependence on U.S. produce, and the water it contains, raises ethical as well as economic considerations. As the Council of Canadians often asserts, the United States is beginning to run out of water. ("We live next to a superpower," says Maude Barlow, who is the council. "And the superpower is getting mighty thirsty.") But the United States uses the bulk of its fresh water in the production of food — more than 80 per cent of water it consumes. And Canadians are principal beneficiaries. We get 60 per cent of the fruits and vegetables that we eat from the United States. Canadians, so to speak, are drinking the United States dry. Is it not in our national interest to replace this precious water — if only to keep the food coming?…In one academic study published last year by UNESCO, two economists (A.Y. Hoekstra and A.K. Chapagain) looked at this issue from the perspective of the Netherlands… The academic conclusion: "International trade can result in water savings provided water-intensive commodities are traded from countries with high water productivity to countries with lower productivity."
All factors considered, Canada helps save the world's water supply by buying California lettuce and Florida oranges.
Unlike other big WTO members such as the European Union and Japan, the US cannot sign a Doha deal where it loses benefits for farmers but gains export markets for its manufacturers and service companies. The power of the farm lobby means the US needs new export markets for agriculture to make up for any cuts in subsidies. This puts it on collision course with the "Group of 33" developing countries that want to protect their small-scale farmers.