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Harper to push trade deal in DC

The Globe and Mail reports that, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have only minutes to talk trade with U.S. President Barack Obama, but a set of unusual meetings with congressional leaders tomorrow matters more to Canada’s attempts to turn back a wave of Buy American protectionism.”

“Canada has offered a deal that would guarantee American companies the right to bid on provincial and city contracts in return for a waiver from the Buy American provisions. The U.S. has named a trade negotiator to the file, but he needs direction from the White House. Even if Mr. Harper can persuade Mr. Obama to nudge the issue out of the deep-freeze, it will need the political blessing of congressional powerbrokers like Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

“Existing trade agreements, like NAFTA, don’t cover state and city spending, so Canada has offered to guarantee access for American companies to provincial and city contracts, as long as the U.S. gives Canada a quick waiver from Buy American. And over the longer term, Canada wants the U.S. to negotiate a formal trade deal that covers such local spending.”

“So far, U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk has not said if he likes the idea, but he has named a negotiator, Everett Eissenstat. Others indicate Mr. Kirk is now waiting for directions from the White House – and Mr. Obama is not likely to negotiate a waiver to Buy American without the backing of congressional Democrats who created them.”

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew and CUPE researcher Blair Redlin wrote this summer in the Toronto Star that, “Such a deal would prohibit provinces and municipalities from giving preference to local businesses when they purchase goods and services. (It) would unreasonably restrict the democratic right and duty to spend public money on local economies and local job creation. …It goes well beyond the choice to ‘Buy Canadian’ where possible. What Harper has proposed could abolish the rights of local and provincial governments to set minimum local content rules for major projects, adopt ethical (i.e. anti-sweatshop) and environmental purchasing policies, seek commitments to hire workers locally, or ask companies winning public contracts to reinvest a portion of revenues in Canadian communities. …Rather than attacking successful and popular ‘Buy American’ policies, which are here to stay, Canadian governments should be increasing and speeding up funding for public infrastructure projects and even attaching ‘Buy Canadian’ conditions to the funding where appropriate.”

The op-ed by Stuart and Blair can be read at http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/677478.

Today’s Globe and Mail article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/congress-key-to-buy-american-breakthrough/article1289164/?.