Canada’s trade minister and US ambassador promise closer trade ties, despite differences

WASHINGTON — In the grand scheme of a volatile and unpredictable world, the trade relationship between Canada and the United States is healthy and only getting stronger, its two senior curators insisted Thursday during a rare joint appearance in Ottawa. .

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai was in the nation’s capital for a two-day visit, her first to Canada since President Joe Biden named her top international trade envoy last March.

Appearing alongside Commerce Minister Mary Ng, Tai acknowledged the various long-standing irritants that exist between the two countries but said they paled in comparison to the global challenges looming over the continent.

“If you zoom out and consider the fact that the United States and Canada exist in the rest of the world, you start to see the real strength and durability of this relationship,” Tai said.

She cited their united front to help Ukraine in its war against Russia and the US-Canada-Mexico agreement as “fundamental pillars” of their collective effort to work together for mutual benefit.

“In the context of North America, it’s very clear that the success of your economy, of your workers, means the success of our economy and our workers, and vice versa,” Tai said.

“The policies that erode your industries are the same policies that erode our industries.”

Tai also mentioned the specific issue of solar panels — a dispute resolution panel ruled in February that Trump-era tariffs on Canadian-made solar products violated the USMCA, known in Canada as of CUSMA.

The panel’s final report concluded that by keeping Canadian exports — a relatively small segment of the total — subject to its so-called “safeguard measures,” the United States was in breach of its obligations under the agreement.

“This is another example where if you zoom in close, you see this as a dispute between the two of us,” Tai said.

“Zoom out, and you realize we’re in the same boat in terms of competing in a world where we have some really fierce competitors and we have to work together to meet those challenges.”

She has become taciturn about Buy American and Buy America, a longstanding protectionist doctrine in the United States that Biden has enthusiastically embraced when it comes to funding federal infrastructure projects.

Business leaders in Canada fear the chilling effect that Biden’s protectionist rhetoric is having on the ability of contractors and suppliers north of the border to win contracts in the United States, both in the private sector and at the inferiors in government.

“Let’s be very, very clear: These are federal procurement policies, and Canada also has federal procurement policies,” Tai said.

“I wouldn’t characterize this President Biden championship as a barrier the administration is throwing in the U.S.-Canada trade relationship.”

Dennis Darby, executive director of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, testified Thursday before the House of Commons Transportation Committee about supply chain vulnerabilities.

“We know that our government and our diplomatic corps are working hard to mitigate the protectionist tendencies of the current administration in the United States, (but) we need to keep the pressure on,” Darby told the committee.

“We need to approach this as Buy North America, not Buy America – it’s a way for us to continue to be part of their supply chain and shorten their supply chain.”

Ng said she was looking forward to showing her counterpart a GM facility Friday in Markham, Ont., where they expect to see the integrated Canada-U.S. supply chains in action.

With the industry’s rapid and dramatic shift towards electric vehicles, the auto sectors in Canada and the United States are poised to become even more intertwined, she predicted.

“We’ve been building automobiles for over 100 years – and for 50 years, very deliberately, through deliberate policies that have integrated our automotive supply chains, and the future is electric,” Ng said.

“We’re going to invest, of course, in critical minerals, which are the start of that value chain, but from critical minerals to the electric batteries that will go into those electric vehicles…we’re going to work with the United States on that.”

The couple were scheduled to meet with union leaders later Thursday, as well as small and medium business owners Friday in Toronto.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 5, 2022.

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