Gary Doer said he is increasingly optimistic about more efficiently operating North American trade corridors.
Speaking at a North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO)regional competitiveness summit in Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. and former premier of Manitoba said there are all sorts of opportunities to add value to the supply chain in the North American context.
Doer said there is less negativity on the political front in the U.S. when it comes to North American free trade and more willingness to attempt to harmonize or align the regulatory environment for cross-border trading.
Doer said the political realities in the U.S. mean there are still regional pockets of protectionism, and the awareness of the scope and scale of trade that exists between Canada and the U.S. is sometimes lacking.
"It's part of my job to mention every time and all the time that Canada is the U.S.'s largest customer," he said at the NASCO event. "We buy more U.S. goods than the whole of the European Union put together. There is tremendous strength in our trading relations."
NASCO is a 20-year-old tri-national coalition of governments, businesses and educational institutions that encourages more collaboration among freight, energy and trade networks. Manitoba has been a member of NASCO since it was formed.
Tiffany Melvin, the Dallas-based executive director of the organization, said NASCO has been working for years to raise the awareness among elected officials, especially in the U.S., about the need to balance trade and security and to make sure security does not trump trade.
"Industry buys into these concepts," she said. "They have been urging elected officials to take more of an interest in these issues."
She said it has not been a top priority for elected officials in the past, but that is starting to change.
"You could say it is a perfect storm," she said. "People are starting to take note. We have to compete globally."
She said many other countries are investing heavily to maximize trade efforts and governments in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are starting to realize in some respects North America is falling behind despite the amazing network that exists here.
Doer said when the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico met in Mexico in February, the talk was more about co-operation than grievances.
"The talk at that meeting was about what can be done more effectively," Doer said. "It was a very positive meeting. In the past it was all about how do we solve problems. They all understand the huge opportunity in front of us."
He said renewed optimism about energy self-sufficiency in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico means there is greater emphasis on trade within North America and more willingness to present as a trading block with somewhat-aligned interests in international organizations such as the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The track record in North America on issues regarding rule of law and protection of intellectual property and innovation will also become important assets when it comes to international trade deals.
Even in an atmosphere of greater trade co-operation, Doer pointed out customs and border services took a hit in the severe budget-cutting process in the U.S. last year.
He said there are still state-sponsored trade barriers that crop up on a regular basis to which his office must continually attend.