TORONTO—Ontario has hired lobbyists in Texas and is threatening protectionist measures of its own as it tries to convince state officials not to pass a Buy American bill.
Premier Kathleen Wynne claimed victory last month after a successful Ontario push to stop similar provisions in New York state.
Now Wynne says she is concerned a bill to extend Buy American provisions to virtually all state agencies in Texas is going to a final review and could get approval as soon as this weekend.
“Protectionist actions like those in this bill have the potential to severely hinder our trade partnership and put jobs, workers and businesses both here and in the U.S. at risk,” she said in a statement.
The bill would force suppliers to buy iron and steel only from American sources. Those industries have been lobbying hard in favour of the bill, said Monique Smith, Ontario’s representative in Washington. D.C.
“A lot of the rhetoric around these provisions are very compelling for Americans, but they don’t necessarily make sense from a trade perspective,” she said.
Smith, the consul general in Texas and representatives from Alberta have met with legislators in Austin to highlight the importance of the current trade relationship. As well, Ontario has hired lobbyists in Texas for their expertise in the state legislative process.
Trade between Ontario and Texas amounted to more than US$12 billion last year, including in the tech, automotive and construction sectors.
If the bill is approved, Ontario may introduce legislation to allow the province to restrict its own procurement policies and processes for Texas firms, Wynne said.
“As premier, I will continue to push for open, fair and competitive access to government contracts and free trade overall,” Wynne said in Thursday’s statement. “However, we are also prepared to respond strongly to this action.”
Ontario had feared New York’s Buy American policy could have had a domino effect with other states if it was approved.
“I hope we don’t have to do this too many times,” Wynne said at the time. “I hope the message is clear.”
At the moment, Smith is keeping an eye on Buy American movement in Illinois, Pennsylvania and California. They aren’t necessarily full pieces of legislation, rather provisions within other bills, but officials are looking at the potential effects on Ontario, she said. The California provision calls for putting American food in school lunches, Smith said.
Wynne has been increasingly vocal about concerns over signs of increasing protectionism in the U.S., in Buy American policies and a pending renegotiation of NAFTA. She has met and spoken with various U.S. governors as part of a strategy to win over high-profile allies to Ontario’s views on trade.
She will be among several premiers heading to Washington, D.C., next month to promote the benefits of free trade and talk NAFTA.