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View Raj Saini Profile
Lib. (ON)
Welcome, members, to the seventh meeting of the Special Committee on the Economic Relationship between Canada and the United States. Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on February 16, the special committee is meeting to discuss the economic relationship between Canada and the United States.
Today we're moving forward in our work and will be starting our examination of buy American procurement policies. To open this topic for us, we are fortunate to have the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade here today.
In addition to the minister, we have from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Steve Verheul, assistant deputy minister, trade policy and negotiations; Arun Alexander, director general, North America trade policy bureau; Doug Forsyth, director general, market access; and Eric Walsh, director general, North America strategy bureau. I thank the witnesses for agreeing to spend this time with us to enlighten us on this very important topic.
Minister, you have five minutes for your opening statement for us. I want to thank you again for sharing your time with us and the floor is yours.
View Mary Ng Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you so much.
Chair Saini, honourable members, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee to speak about the long-standing, unique and mutually beneficial trade relationship between Canada and the United States. As many of you know, back in February our government held its first bilateral meeting with the Biden administration, where we launched the road map for a renewed U.S.-Canada partnership, which lays out an ambitious plan for going forward together to address the pandemic and to build back better.
Just last week I had my first meeting with Ambassador Katherine Tai, the newly confirmed U.S. trade representative. We discussed our countries' close relationship and agreed on the importance of keeping our integrated supply chains open and resilient.
Our ongoing engagement with the new administration offers us the opportunity to strengthen our trade relationship.
This includes working together on implementation of the new NAFTA and engaging constructively on trade issues, such as U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber and solar products, and buy American provisions.
Canada and the United States have a trading relationship like no other two countries in the world. Every day, $2.7 billion worth of goods and services cross our borders. Canada is the top destination for U.S. exports and 32 states count Canada as their top customer.
Our cross-border trade is critical to workers, to businesses, and to families and communities on both sides of the border, providing stability and good jobs to Americans and Canadians alike. It is a testament to our relationship that as of January 2021, Canadian exports to the United States have surpassed their pre-pandemic levels. That's a good sign for the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our integrated supply chain means that Canada is able to easily export its cutting-edge products into markets in the United States.
Let me give you an example. IPEX is an Ontario-based company that is bringing its innovative, made-in-Canada environmental solution to the U.S. infrastructure industry by recycling vinyl in its products and making sustainable earthquake-resistant water main pipes.
I can tell you unequivocally that Canada and the U.S. are committed to growing our already close relationship—which is made even easier with the new and modernized NAFTA—and supporting both countries in a strong economic recovery from this pandemic.
I would also like to spend a little time on buy American and buy America. The terms “buy American” and “buy America” are often used interchangeably and mistakenly. Buy American requirements mandate that all American federal government departments purchase only U.S. goods. The U.S. Trade Agreements Act of 1979 waives buy American requirements for countries that are party to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and other U.S. free trade agreements. As Canada is party to the GPA, buy American requirements are waived for Canadian companies.
Buy America requirements, on the other hand, are different. Buy America requirements vary between the departments and agencies, but in general they are applied to iron, steel and manufactured goods used in infrastructure projects and in most cases require 100% U.S. content.
Here I understand the concerns of Canadian businesses that export and trade with the United States, but let me be clear: We will always stand up for Canadian businesses and workers, and we will continue working as one team Canada to ensure stability and prosperity for our industries. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I raised this directly with both President Biden and the U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Tai. We are committed to working together to reinforce our deeply integrated production of goods and services and mutually beneficial economic relationship, and to avoid negative impacts on jobs or businesses.
With respect to softwood lumber, there is no doubt that it is an important industry to the Canadian economy and to our trade relationship with the United States. Let me begin by stating unequivocally that the duties imposed by the U.S. on Canadian softwood lumber are unwarranted and unfair. They hurt workers and industry on both sides of the border.
Canada continues to strongly believe that a negotiated agreement with the U.S. is in both countries' best interests.
Again, I raised this directly with both President Biden and Ambassador Tai, and I will continue to actively engage with key elected officials on this issue. We're taking a team Canada approach, working hand in hand with the softwood lumber industry and provincial and territorial partners on all fronts to ensure Canada and the United States can come to a conclusion on this matter.
Let me conclude by saying that our government is absolutely committed to standing up for our workers and businesses and finding opportunities to strengthen our relationship with the United States.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on all sides of the House to ensure success in Canada-U.S. trade relations in the interest of all Canadians.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'm happy to take questions.
View Raj Saini Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Minister, for your opening comments.
We will go straight to questions.
For the first six minutes, to lead us off, we'll go to Mr. Lewis, please.
View Chris Lewis Profile
CPC (ON)
View Chris Lewis Profile
2021-04-01 15:11
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Minister. We certainly appreciate your time. We all know that time is very precious, so thank you for that.
Minister, my riding is the riding of Essex. It's down by the busiest international border in all of North America, next to Windsor. I appreciate the fact that the government says it will always stand up for Canadian workers and businesses, but, Minister, there's a major issue here with regard to trade. The trade starts at the border. The trade doesn't necessarily mean the trade of goods going back and forth. The trade is actually the people who go with the goods.
Windsor-Essex is hemorrhaging business to the U.S. and to Mexico, specifically in the manufacturing sector but also in our small business sector. What's happening, Minister, is very simple. Law-abiding, legal visa holders who go back and forth across the border are being told to quarantine for 14 days or face very hefty fines, along with their employees and their customers who come and literally spend two hours on a shop floor right here in my backyard to approve a product. I have met with so many advanced manufacturers. We really need to deem our business owners, our employees and our customers an essential service, just like the Province of Ontario already has.
Have you, Minister, had any discussions with either the Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair or your U.S. counterparts to begin to resolve this problem?
View Mary Ng Profile
Lib. (ON)
Having spent quite some time in your neck of the woods, I understand how important the trade relationship is between Canada and the U.S., particularly from the vantage point of where you are. It really is very much about people. It's about those businesses, and it's about how they are able to work together.
We are in a global pandemic. We have, throughout this period of a year, been able to keep the borders open in, I believe, a very successful way. We have groceries on our shelves. We have medical supplies and critical goods and equipment crossing both borders. In that respect, I believe this long border is and continues to be a success.
We do acknowledge it is the effort of all of us, Canada and the U.S., and certainly here in a whole-of-government approach, my colleagues Minister Blair and the health minister, to work together to make sure that we are truly maintaining that balance. What is that balance? That balance is keeping Canadians healthy and safe and—
View Chris Lewis Profile
CPC (ON)
View Chris Lewis Profile
2021-04-01 15:14
Thank you, Minister. I'm sorry. I don't have very much time.
We have groceries on shelves, thank goodness. What we don't have is new contracts coming to Canada. We are losing these new contracts because we can't get the customers over here for two hours.
Minister, e-petition 3297 was tabled with the Clerk. It is now up on the House of Commons website for signatures as of last Monday. Are you aware of this e-petition? Basically, it calls for this: to deem business owners, their employees and their customers an essential service, just as the Province of Ontario has.
View Mary Ng Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm looking forward to taking a look at that petition, now that you have raised it with me. I would say our top priority is to fight this pandemic and keep Canadians safe. Essential services and goods are moving across the border. We are absolutely balancing that—the commerce between the two countries—and keeping Canadians safe.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines, for sure, and as I said earlier, our trade numbers have resumed to pre-pandemic levels between Canada and the United States. We are going to keep doing this, but we must keep Canadians safe from COVID-19. We have introduced a lot of—
View Chris Lewis Profile
CPC (ON)
View Chris Lewis Profile
2021-04-01 15:15
Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that.
Mr. Chair, how much time do I have left, please?
View Raj Saini Profile
Lib. (ON)
You have about a minute.
View Chris Lewis Profile
CPC (ON)
View Chris Lewis Profile
2021-04-01 15:15
Thank you very much.
I'm sorry to cut you off, Minister. I truly apologize, but it's not often that I get an opportunity to speak to a minister.
So, Minister, I guess I am asking this: Will you commit to bringing this issue forward to Minister Blair, as well as to your U.S. colleagues? All they're asking for, and what I know is absolutely vital to our economic recovery, is to give clear and concise direction to the CBSA and to PHAC to deem these workers essential, just like our truck drivers. It's the exact same thing.
Literally, there is great food on the grocery shelves, Minister, but it's not hitting the tables of Canadians, because people are losing their jobs. Would you commit to this, please?
View Mary Ng Profile
Lib. (ON)
I commit to working as hard as I can to make sure we fight COVID-19 and continue to do what we need to do to keep Canadians safe. We are going to do that. We are going to help small businesses get through this, to bridge them to the other side of COVID-19. The health of Canadians and the economy and the economic recovery are absolutely connected.
That is our commitment as a government. We are keeping Canadians safe, supporting businesses—all businesses, including small businesses—helping our businesses continue to export and continue to find opportunities and customers in the international marketplace like the U.S. All that work continues. All of this is in an effort to get us on that road to recovery, one that is stronger because Canadians are healthy and safe.
View Raj Saini Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Lewis.
We will now go to Mr. Housefather for six minutes, please.
View Anthony Housefather Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Minister Ng, it's a pleasure to see you. Thank you for the extraordinary work that you and your parliamentary secretary have been doing on this file.
I will share some time with Ms. Bendayan.
I wanted to give you the opportunity to clarify for Canadians exactly what we're talking about here. As you said in your opening statement, there's the 1933 Buy American Act; there's the 1983 buy America act, and then there's President Biden's recent executive order. Then, there are all the different places Canada is exempt from “buy American”, whether through the GPA or the USMCA.
Could you talk to the committee and to Canadians about exactly what the biggest concern is about the President's recent executive order that would change things under either “buy American” or “buy America”, and how you are working with your colleagues to handle that?
View Mary Ng Profile
Lib. (ON)
I want to thank the honourable member. It's very good to see you. It's too bad I'm not able to see you and everyone in person, but I hope that will come soon enough.
As I said in my opening remarks, “buy American” refers to an act that the American administration enacted, and because Canada is a party to the WTO's GPA—the government procurement provisions—we are exempt from “buy American”.
“Buy America” may apply to greater American content, and it is here that I have, for sure, heard from Canadian and American businesses and workers on both sides of the border, because they understand the value of open procurement markets. In fact, any restrictions on that will actually have a negative impact.
Our supply chains are so integrated and we work so closely together. In fact, we build together and we innovate together. I just want to assure the committee that if there is any expansion into greater content requirements, we are going to actively work on that to defend and to ensure that there is no impact on our critical supply chains and Canadian businesses and Canadian workers.
View Anthony Housefather Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you so much, Minister.
I just have one more question before I turn it over to Ms. Bendayan.
I know you've been working closely with employers groups and unions on both sides of the border in order to ensure that Canada's perspective is heard loudly and clearly in Washington and in the different states applying the executive order.
Can you talk about the collegiality of that relationship and how that's working out?
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