A trade war with New York State would be reckless

By MPP Toby Barrett

Parliamentary debate last week addressed the fact New York State passed legislation that will mandate only American-made steel may be procured for certain infrastructure projects. Texas has similar legislation that came in last September which placed ‘Buy American’ requirements on iron and steel in highway and construction projects. As a result, Ontario tabled legislation that will allow the province to respond in kind.

Ontario has introduced Bill 194, the Fairness in Procurement Act, as an attempt to try and deal with the state laws, even though there are already countless other laws and bills like this one on the books throughout the United States.

Initiating a trade war now with the US, during what continues to be a critical time during the ongoing and extended NAFTA negotiations, really appears to be reckless. It seems to be a last-ditch ploy to distract from Ontario’s disastrous economic policies of high taxes, high energy costs, and the plethora of suffocating bureaucratic red tape.

This attempt by Ontario to retaliate is a threat to what many have been working on over the past year. Many of us have been actively lobbying and communicating with American leaders with respect to the benefits of trade. Over several years, I’ve built up what I consider important relationships with US state-elected farmers and ranchers – those people who have benefited tremendously from NAFTA and from trade with Canada and Mexico.

Now – with this new Ontario bill — we’ve got a bit of a monkey wrench thrown into the mix. Why are we not seeing a well-crafted, well-thought-out, meaningful response to these kinds of American policies that can have a significant impact on Ontario and certainly on our steel industry?

We in the Official Opposition will not support this kind of retaliation from the province. It’s premature. It’s a very weak response and something that would not be expected of either a federal or provincial level of government.

On May 18 last year, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer gave notice of intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement—NAFTA—with Canada and Mexico. At that announcement, he cited outdated standards and regulations; a fair comment that would be accurate to some extent. Lighthizer stressed the need for higher-paying jobs in the United States. That was the reason given.

This New York State legislation against steel produced in Ontario is ill-advised. Ontario’s proposed retaliation is also ill-advised and flies in the face of the fact that the United States and Canada boast one of the largest trading relationships in the world.

No other country buys more goods and services that are made in the USA than Canada—something in the order of $322 billion a year. As a result, Canada supports close to nine million US jobs.

Factories and farming in both our countries are linked, with just-in-time delivery chains that criss-cross the border. Investment, productivity and competitiveness in both countries are by and large supported by common rules and harmonized regulation—not by suffocating regulation and not by mutual retaliatory measures.

At the state and at the provincial level, elected representatives agree—and the numbers speak for themselves—cross-border trade has resulted in prosperity and good-paying jobs. Restricting Canada-US trade and retaliating in kind suffocates that very prosperity and kills those good-paying jobs.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk