Trade Minister Ng disappointed, not daunted by US protectionism

·3 min read

OTTAWA — Canada's trade minister says she's disappointed at some of the protectionist measures being pushed by the new Biden administration in Washington, but she's not discouraged from partnering with her country's largest trading partner to strengthen global financial institutions.

Mary Ng said that includes the revival of Buy American provisions in President Joe Biden's massive new infrastructure bill, which are creating more hurdles for foreign companies to bid on lucrative projects.

"We must always stand up for the best interest of Canadians. I've been clear that we have been disappointed by the protectionist components of the infrastructure bill," Ng told The Canadian Press from Geneva where she was making her first visit of the COVID-19 pandemic to the seat of the World Trade Organization.

"We're going to continue to work with the U.S. on this. We must."

Ng has taken up the mantle of the Ottawa Group of about a dozen countries that aims to strengthen and reform the battered and much-maligned WTO.

The Ottawa Group was trying to keep a key WTO dispute resolution institution known as the Appellate Body from being crippled by the former U.S. administration of Donald Trump that had blocked the American appointment of new judges to the panel.

The Biden administration has yet to appoint new judges so the panel can function, a delay that has frustrated Canadian businesses. They are also frustrated by a proposed American electric vehicle tax credit, widely seen violation of international trading rules, and revived Buy American provisions in the president's new infrastructure bill.

Ng was in Geneva this week to prepare for a major ministerial meeting of the WTO set for later in the month.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Ng's American counterpart, will be at the meeting. Tai has expressed support for the WTO but that has not translated into firm action to reinstate American appellate judges so the institution that overseas trade disputes is in a position to resolve them.

Ng has held two in-person meetings with Tai this year. Accounts from both their offices show that they have discussed a range of issues, including the WTO.

"I won't speak for her," said Ng, when pressed on whether Tai has offered any indication of movement on the issue.

"Canada is committed to finding that long term solution to the appellate body."

Despite the irritants, Ng said she still sees plenty of room for co-operation with the U.S. and its continental partner, Mexico.

Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will convene that the White House next week for their first Three Amigos summit in five years.

The trilateral discussion will be focusing on ways to leverage the new North American trade agreement that was forged during the Trump administration to make the continent more resilient to the economic shocks of the pandemic. That includes finding solutions to the supply-chain bottleneck and highlighting the need to diversify from China.

Ng has done some of the spadework for the summit, travelling recently to Washington and Mexico City for meetings with the political counterparts.

"North American competitiveness. How we fight climate change together. How we recover from COVID-19 creating jobs that are good paying jobs throughout North America. These are things that we have in common, and these are things that we also must work on together," said Ng.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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