When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with President Obama at the White House on Sept. 16, Canada's search for relief from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Buy American provision will be one of his top priorities.
Canada has objected to the provision for months, saying that its manufacturers are being hurt by ARRA's restrictions on use of non-U.S-made steel and manufactured products in projects funded by the legislation. The Canadians' prime focus is on ARRA-funded projects that are administered by states and localities, in sectors such as water and wastewater facilities.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also has criticized the Buy American language, fearing retaliatory moves by Canadian agencies.
In a briefing for reporters Sept. 14, Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, declined to say whether he expected an agreement on buy American to be announced at the Obama-Harper meeting.
There has been a flurry of recent activity on the part of Canada in an attempt to resolve the Buy American controversy. Minister of Internationals Trade Stockwell Day sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk outlining a proposal that is believed to allow more freedom for Canadian companies to bid on U.S. State and local contracts and reciprocal ability for U.S. Firms seeking contracts in Canada.
On Aug. 12, Don Stephenson, Canada's assistant deputy minister of trade policy and negotiations, was appointed to engage in talks with the U.S. Day also met in Washington with U.S. officials during the week of Sept. 7.
Soudas said that since the middle of August, "our government has actually moved the yardsticks forward on the...process of addressing our concerns over buy America."
Nevertheless, officials of U.S. and Canadian business groups doubt that an agreement on the Buy American matter will be announced during Harper's visit. "We can always be hopeful," says Jean Michel Laurin, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters' vice president for global business policy. But Laurin says, "We're not going to be disappointed [Sept. 16] if there's no announcement, because we weren't expecting the issue to be resolved [that day] anyway." He adds, "We also are hoping to get the issue resolved very quickly."
Chris Braddock, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's senior director for procurement policy, says he would be surprised to see an official agreement announced during the meeting. "It seems just...timing-wise that would be difficult," Braddock says.
While in Washington, Harper also has meetings scheduled with Senate and House leaders.