Canadian Manufacturing

White House signals hard line on Buy American as Ottawa urged to push for exemption

Trudeau is likely to ask Biden for help in procuring COVID-19 vaccines, since Canada has been squeezed by production problems in Europe.

February 23, 2021  The Canadian Press

The White House isn’t leaving much wiggle room for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to escape Joe Biden’s Buy American rules.

The two leaders are set to meet virtually later today in Biden’s first bilateral meeting since taking over as U.S. president.

Trudeau is likely to ask Biden for help in procuring COVID-19 vaccines, since Canada has been squeezed by production problems in Europe.

The two leaders will also talk about China, where Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been detained for more than two years.

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Experts also want Ottawa to push hard for a Canadian exemption from plans to prioritize U.S. businesses for federal infrastructure and procurement.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki says no immediate changes to the regime are on the horizon.

“He signed an executive order; we’re of course evaluating procurement components of that, but no changes anticipated,” Psaki said on Feb. 22.

“Of course, the prime minister will bring up whatever he would like to bring up, as is true of any bilateral meeting.”

Eric Miller, a Canada-U. S. expert and president of the D.C.-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, said there is synchronicity between the two leaders — and now is the time to take advantage.

“To me, this is exactly the moment for Canada to go on offence,” Miller said.

The Biden administration and the Trudeau government have aligned interests on climate change, a multilateral foreign policy and on a new approach to China, he said.

And Biden, an outspoken champion of unions, needs to be careful not to run afoul of organized labour groups with large memberships on opposite sides of the border.

“If I were Canada, I’d be pitching very strongly for a Buy American agreement — I mean, the worst they can say is no,” Miller said.

Maryscott Greenwood, the chief executive officer of the Canadian American Business Council, said the Prime Minister’s Office would do well to imagine Donald Trump is still in the White House.

“Canada embarked on a very, very forward-leaning, activist agenda about engaging the U.S., inside and outside of D.C.” when Trump was in office, she said.

“It’s going to be important to have that level of urgency and that level of effort, and not just assume that everything’s good now that Biden’s here.”