By Tim Kalinowski on July 8, 2021.
Concerns about protectionism in the recently tense trading relationship between Canada and the United States dominated the conversation at the the CanadaWest Foundation’s “Talking to the Neighbours over the Fence Post-Covid” virtual forum held earlier this week.
The heart of the online event was a Q & A session with Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf in his capacity as Alberta’s representative to the Council of State Governments (CSG) Midwest and West; Canada Relations Committee U.S. Co-Chair Senator Tom Begich of Alaska; former Business Council of Manitoba President and CEO Don Leitch; and Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington.
“Alberta continues to be one of the best places in North America to invest,” Neudorf told delegates watching online during his opening remarks on Tuesday. “As we look ahead toward economic recovery, we will be focusing on building on Alberta’s existing strengths in energy, agriculture and forestry. As well as diversification in key growth sectors like tech and innovation, finance and FinTech (financial technology) , tourism, aviation, aerospace and logistics.
“I know economic recovery is a high priority for jurisdictions, industries and businesses around the globe, including our U.S. neighbours,” he added. “And a key part of this recovery will include enhancing collaboration and partnerships with partners beyond our borders; especially with our largest trading partner, the U.S.”
Begitch said given the polarized politics down in the United States at the moment, which have become aggravated during the past four years, he was not optimistic it could be business as usual again anytime soon.
“The only way you can have that relationship is with rational actors,” he warned. “You have to be able to talk to people who also share your belief system or your working system.
“I want strong business relations between our various communities, but to do so we have to really encourage each other,” he added. “(Canada’s) shared democratic traditions and our shared democratic traditions are going to be the glue that keeps us moving forward when it comes to economic development. We have to have that common ground.”
Lewington also picked up on this theme of the importance of mending fences before you can have conversations across fences.
“Certainly President Biden campaigned on a vastly different agenda than his predecessor,” stated Lewington. “Industry and business are also looking for predictability and stability, and I don’t think we have achieved that. I think, as the Senator pointed out, there is a lot more challenges with democracy on both sides of the border, and there are some dark shadows on the horizon.”
Lewington went on to state the protectionist tendencies seen in the United States recently even from a nominally Republican president, whose party has historically emphasized free trade, were concerning for Canadians. Lewington said it was also uncertain how President Biden’s “fair trade” emphasis was going to impact Canada’s trading relationship with the United States.
“Protectionism can manifest itself very quickly in seemingly mundane things like country of origin labelling or phytosanitary requirements,” he said. “I call it the bureaucracy of the border– the neverending piles of paperwork that get created for no real value added purpose. It is very easy to slow down, or kill, trade simply by adding more bureaucracy into the mix.”
Neudorf also hoped by building strong relations across the border with political representatives and business leaders in nearby American states, no matter which party happens to be in power at the moment, that those states would act as advocates for a strong, free trading relationship with Alberta and other provinces.
“Unless we can have that trust, that competitive integrity, within a fairness and justice system, we can’t actually do trade together,” he said. “We need to depoliticize some of these conversations so we can meet together as individuals and talk through the issues without becoming polarized, without becoming ideologically trapped and entrenched.”
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