NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – The United States will work with Canada to find a way to alleviate concerns surrounding the Buy American policy in the U.S. economic stimulus bill, which some say is shutting Canadian companies out of lucrative contracts, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday.
“I’m well aware of the concerns that there may be elements of the international trade obligations or absences of agreements that should be looked at so that we can promote more procurement and other kinds of trade interactions,” she said during a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
“And I have assured Minister Cannon that we will take a close look at that.”
However, the Buy American provision “isn’t being enforced in any way that is inconsistent” with America’s international trade obligations, Clinton said.
“We take that very seriously,” she said.
“Obviously, Canada is our No. 1 trading partner. It is a mutually beneficial relationship that we intend to not only nurture, but see grow.”
Both Cannon and Clinton expressed optimism that a solution could be found after discussing the matter during their hour-long meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., which marked her first visit to Canada as secretary of state.
Cannon, who warned of the dangers of protectionism during a morning ceremony on the Rainbow Bridge, said the restrictions shouldn’t become a “major” obstacle given that the two countries have been able to work out their differences before.
“I was able to bring the secretary of state up to speed on this issue, and at the same time, get assurances that we would look to find different options to make sure that what we already have built – in terms of a solid foundation – can continue to flourish and to prevail,” Cannon said.
“We still have work ahead of us and we’re looking forward to doing that.”
Cannon’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to the U.S. airwaves to warn about the “protectionist behaviour” of American state and municipal governments.
The U.S. economic recovery bill, passed in February, dictates that the steel and manufactured goods bought with federal funds must be made in the U.S.
Canada’s big-city mayors have blasted the bill’s provision and suggested that they retaliate with their own “Buy Canadian” policy.
At the recent annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Whistler, B.C., mayors passed a resolution that U.S. bidders should be shut out of similar projects in Canada.
Tackling another source of friction between the two countries – Arctic sovereignty – Clinton seemed to suggest that Canada and the U.S. should work together to avoid a “free-for-all” in the icy North.
“Obviously there are issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction that have to be acknowledged and respected. But what we don’t want is for the Arctic to become a free-for-all,” she said.
“If there’s going to be greater maritime passageways, if there’s going to be more exploration for natural resources, if there are going to be more security issues, I think it’s in the Canadian and the United States’ interests to try to get ahead of those and try to make sure that we know what we’re going to do to resolve them before countries that are not bordering the Arctic are making claims, are behaving in ways that will cause us difficulties.”
Progress is already being made through the Arctic Council, whose member states include Canada, the U.S. and Russia, Cannon said. Canada is also asserting its sovereignty with its infrastructure programs, he added.
Earlier, Clinton and Cannon also agreed to update a key agreement to protect the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement – a pact which hasn’t been touched since 1987 – will be re-opened for negotiation between the two countries, Clinton said.
The announcement came during a morning ceremony on the Rainbow Bridge to mark the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty – largely considered to be the first piece of modern environmental legislation.
The move will bring the two countries closer together – an alliance that’s already brought prosperity and security to both countries, Clinton said.
“To properly celebrate the 100 successful years of this treaty, we have to do more to honour the past,” she said.
“We have to recommit ourselves to strengthening this partnership and find new ways to come together to solve new problems.”
For years, environmentalists and officials on both sides of the border have been lobbying their governments to update the Great Lakes agreement to reflect more modern problems, such as invasive species, climate change, emerging chemicals and contamination.
The agreement to protect the lakes – which make up almost 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water – was first signed in 1972 by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who said it recognized “the fragility of our planet and the delicacy of the biosphere on which all life is dependent.”
The pact lays out the rights and obligations of both countries for the Great Lakes and a portion of the St. Lawrence River that straddles the border, particularly their obligation not to pollute boundary waters.
It stemmed from the century-old Boundary Waters Treaty, which sets out principles for Canada and the U.S. to follow in using the waters they share and created an international joint commission to settle disputes between the two countries.
Under the treaty, both countries must agree to any project that would change the natural levels or flows of boundary waters. It also states that waters shall not be polluted on either side of the boundary to the injury of health or property on the other side.