Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Only minimal progress so far in Buy American dispute, says trade minister

OTTAWA — Ottawa has received a first hint of progress in its appeal to Washington to create a Canadian exception to Buy American laws, says Trade Minister Stockwell Day.

But Day made it clear Monday that the two sides are nowhere close to resolving the dispute over protectionist clauses that keep Canadian suppliers from bidding on federal infrastructure projects funded under the U.S. stimulus program.

"This is going to be ongoing. I don't want anybody thinking we are going to be having an announcement in one week or two weeks," Day said after meeting Monday in Dallas with his U.S. counterpart, Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

"Their response to us is positive in the sense we've seen movement, but I'm not raising hopes here," Day said in a conference call. "There are some areas where we have compatibility and other areas we're sending back to them."

Day said Canada will come back with a counter-proposal when negotiators return to the table next week, but would not be specific.

The issue has some urgency because analysts believe most of the US$290 billion in U.S. federal stimulus that Canadian suppliers and manufacturers might qualify to bid on is expected to be allocated next year.

Yet Day said a previous media report that a deal was imminent had "no foundation."

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 made substantial concessions in agreeing to abide by the same procurement rules that exist at the federal level.

On that issue, the arrival in Washington of former Manitoba premier Gary Doer as Canada's new ambassador to the United States will be useful, Day said.

"He is gong to be able to give insights to those in Congress about how far provinces have come on this," Day said. "He's going to be a great asset."

Day also said the United States accepts the concept of a Canadian waiver, saying that one was issued for broadband technology procurement in July.

Day was in Dallas for a meeting of the NAFTA trade commission. The three ministers agreed to pursue initiatives to increase economic co-operation between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

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