Buy Amer­i­can deal ex­empts Cana­dian com­pa­nies from pro­tec­tion­ist U.S. pro­vi­sions

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

OTTAWA (CP) — The old maxim that noth­ing fo­cuses the mind like a hang­ing at dawn seems an apt de­scrip­tion of what drew the prov­inces to­gether last sum­mer in a rare show of unity against “Buy Amer­i­can.”

Un­ex­pect­edly, they saw their in­dus­tries shut out of fat Amer­i­can stim­u­lus con­tracts be­cause of the pro­tec­tion­ist trade pol­icy. Some­thing had to be done — and fast.

“I have never in all my his­tory in pol­i­tics, I have never seen so many things move so quickly in all my life — we had una­nim­ity within two weeks,” said On­tario Trade Min­is­ter San­dra Pu­patello.

Then-fed­eral trade min­is­ter Stock­well Day took the ba­ton from the anx­ious prov­inces and, with Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper, banged the drum for a deal with Wash­ing­ton.

Fri­day — seven months later — Canada and the U.S. an­nounced a ten­ta­tive deal that would give the prov­inces ac­cess to pro­cure­ment con­tracts in 37 states, and vice-versa.

Wash­ing­ton has also agreed to waive its pro­tec­tion­ist clauses in the US$787-bil­lion Re­cov­ery Act for cer­tain con­tracts, giv­ing Cana­dian com­pa­nies the chance to com­pete for what’s left of the stim­u­lus spending.

And Wash­ing­ton has promised to fast-track fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions on Buy Amer­i­can mea­sures they might build into spending.

“With this agree­ment, we are send­ing a clear mes­sage: the best way to cre­ate and keep jobs is by open­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, not by clos­ing them,” Trade Min­is­ter Peter Van Loan said in an­nounc­ing the deal.

Harper called it an im­por­tant step for­ward, not­ing Canada has been “sideswiped” in the past by U.S. trade pol­icy aimed at other coun­tries.

“In this par­tic­u­lar deal, we re­ally have es­tab­lished the no­tion that Canada is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Canada and the United States is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent,” he said in Saskatoon.

How­ever, Lib­eral trade critic Scott Bri­son said the agree­ment is too lit­tle, too late.

“The fact is much of the stim­u­lus has been spent, and the rest will be ex­pir­ing soon,” Bri­son said.

“The gov­ern­ment has failed to ne­go­ti­ate a good agree­ment in a timely man­ner, and as a re­sult Cana­dian jobs have been lost and Cana­dian com­pet­i­tive­ness has been af­fected neg­a­tively.”

There are also many de­tails to be hashed out, in­clud­ing myr­iad ex­emp­tions that could in­clude con­tracts in the health-care, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­tural sec­tors.

Jayson My­ers, pres­i­dent of Cana­dian Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Ex­porters, ac­knowl­edged that the amount of money left to com­pete for in the first Amer­i­can stim­u­lus pack­age has largely run out — only US$75 bil­lion left of US$275 bil­lion by that gov­ern­ment’s own es­ti­mates. And the dead­line for those projects is Feb. 17, al­though My­ers and Cana­dian of­fi­cials say much money has yet to be for­mally awarded by states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Still, My­ers said credit is due to Day and other fed­eral of­fi­cials for over­see­ing the dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“ This is the first time in Cana­dian his­tory that they’ve agreed on any pro­cure­ment deal. That was no mean feat and to be able to bring the prov­inces on board and launch ne­go­ti­a­tions with the United States ... that’s the type of ac­com­plish­ment this is.”

Ob­servers say the real victory was what politi­cians and bu­reau­crats ac­com­plished in Canada, bring­ing the prov­inces to­gether to lib­er­al­ize ac­cess to gov­ern­ment con­tracts for the first time.

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