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Harper, Calderon to fight U.S. protectionism

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexico's president have agreed to work together to fight protectionism.

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexico's president have agreed to work together to fight protectionism.

The leaders of the two countries with perhaps the most to lose from protectionism in the United States talked by phone on Wednesday.

Harper called Felipe Calderon to discuss concerns about a "Buy American" clause in the $900-billion stimulus package before the U.S. Congress.

The bill stipulates that public works projects must buy American-made iron, steel and manufactured goods.

It has been watered down to say that such measures must not contravene international trade agreements, but there's still plenty of room for concern from the NAFTA partners.

A spokesman for the Mexican government said Thursday the leaders underlined that they are completely on the same page when it comes to keeping trade flowing freely.

"(They) spoke of the risks implied in yielding to pressures to implement protectionist policies in trade matters, agreeing to maintain ongoing dialogue to avoid such action," said Alberto Lozano, press attache with the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa.

The two also agreed on the "need to improve competition in North America to accelerate economic recovery in the countries of the region."

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Harper, added in a news release that the two would work closely on the issue before a G-20 leader's summit this April in London.

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have been working for several years on a Security and Prosperity Partnership that is supposed to enhance trade by eliminating more red tape.

Harper and Calderon have developed a strong relationship. Harper made an important diplomatic gesture in 2007 when he attended Calderon's inauguration amid a political crisis in that country. Lozano said Calderon congratulated Harper on the passage of his budget this week

Wednesday's call sends a further public signal to their neighbour that they are prepared to defend NAFTA vigorously .

Canadian officials have said they believe the "Buy American" measures violate trade agreements.

Since NAFTA was signed in 1993, trade among the three countries has tripled.

Calderon and his top economic advisers met President Barack Obama in Washington just five days before his inauguration last month. Last week, Calderon took to the international stage at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to push for a concerted campaign against protectionism.

Calderon and Harper are expected to meet Obama at an annual trilateral meeting this year in Mexico.

 
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