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