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NEWS: Secretive talks on procurement deal with the US continue

Canadian trade minister Stockwell Day met yesterday with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Mexican Secretary of Economy Gerardo Ruiz Mateos in Dallas, Texas.
At this meeting, the Financial Post reports, “the United States accepted the ‘premise’ of granting an exemption to Canadian provinces and municipalities from the U.S. government’s Buy American policy…”

But, “Mr. Day said the U.S. has come back with a counter-proposal, and although he would not offer specifics, he suggested the offer could open the door to a Buy American exemption.”

Day told reporters that, “Some elements of what the Americans are suggesting, we think are doable, and others we are making a counter-proposal (on).”

The Canadian Press adds that, “Day said Canada will come back with a counter-proposal when negotiators return to the table next week, but would not be specific.”

“U.S. analysts have suggested one sticking point is that provincial leaders in Canada have not agreed to open all areas of procurement to foreign firms.”

“But Day appeared to downplay the problem, saying U.S. negotiators appreciate that the provinces have (already) made substantial concessions in agreeing to abide by the same procurement rules that exist at the federal level.”

On Sunday, the Canadian Press reported that, “Canada-U.S. analyst Chris Sands says it may take up to a year before Canada realizes any concrete progress in the talks, and (that will) only (happen) if provinces are willing to put long-cherished exclusions on the table.”

Sands said, “The question is, is Canada willing to concede everything we want? Ontario has been the biggest barrier …it isn’t willing to put university procurement, textbooks and health care procurement on to the table. For the U.S., it’s not just about roads.”

While Sands sees Ontario’s objections to “university procurement, textbooks and health care procurement” as a problem, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson criticized Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty on Friday for his ‘Buy Ontario’ policies. Simpson writes that these policies undermine the procurement talks and mean that, “At least 25 per cent of wind projects and 50 per cent of large solar projects must contain Ontario goods and labour. …A 25-per-cent-content rule already applies for public-transit vehicles.”

On Monday, Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders (indirectly) criticized the province by writing, “The toughest sticking-point in (the Canada-European Union free trade) negotiations this week, both sides say, will likely be the dairy farmers of central Canada (Ontario and Quebec), who are threatening to derail the entire deal over the relatively small matter of… provincial supply-management programs, which mainly apply only to dairy.”

That all said, McGuinty did sign onto a controversial new agriculture chapter within the Agreement on Internal Trade in Whitehorse last week. Trade campaigner Stuart Trew hightlights that the new chapter threatens to outlaw the promotion of local food by provincial and municipal governments for the alleged distorting effects these policies have on interprovincial trade.

While it has been reported that “the provinces appear to support open-access procurement contracts unanimously,” it is hoped that the new NDP government in Nova Scotia and the new NDP premier in Manitoba may challenge this consensus.

After all, provincial agreement to these procurement-related deals is essential. Saunders writes, “In 2005, talks aimed at a more limited deal (with the European Union) broke down over provinces refusing to open up their municipal and provincial government procurement contracts (for garbage collection or data processing, for example) to equal bidding from any European companies that provide those services.”

Our September 30 media release states, “The Council of Canadians requested a copy of the (initial) Canadian proposal (on procurement) to Obama several weeks ago and was told by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to file an access to information request. This request has been delayed because, according to the government, looking for it would take too much of the department’s time.”

On October 16, trade campaigner Stuart Trew was informed by DFAIT that our request had been denied. You will hear more on this from us next week.

To read the statement on public procurement signed by the Council of Canadians and numerous other organizations, please go to http://canadians.org/trade/issues/NAFTA/procurement_statement.html.

Maude Barlow has also recently highlighted that, “The right of local and provincial governments to spend tax dollars on developing the local economy is not a barrier to trade. It is and must remain a matter of choice for Canadian and American communities.”

Today’s Financial Post report is at http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=2120915.