Trade on the Table as Bush Visits Canada
President begins a two-day, first-time ''official working visit'' to Ottawa, Halifax
OTTAWA, Canada - 11/30/04 - Trade will be at the top of the list of topics for discussion as President George Bush travels to Canada today on his first-ever visit to the US' No. 1 global trading partner.
The president is scheduled to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to discuss cross-border trade, the international war on terror, and "other issues of common interest," according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
President Bush has met with Martin on four previous occasions - at the Summit of the Americas conference in Monterrey, Mexico; in Washington, DC; at Sea Island, Georgia, during the G8 Summit last June; and most recently in Santiago, Chile.
The two-day visit "will be an opportunity to build upon our successful efforts to fight terrorism and enhance the security of our two countries while expanding trade and economic opportunity," said McClellen. "It will also be an opportunity to continue to talk about ways to strengthen democracy at home in our own hemisphere and working to expand democracy abroad."
While cross-border trade between the US and Canada has surged 135% to some $391 billion since 1988, the US registered a $49.3 billion trade deficit with its northern neighbor during the first nine months of this year.
According to the Washington Post, officials in Washington predict that the on-going "mad-cow" beef import dispute with the US "will be resolved" during the president's visit, but are quick to caution that "other trade quarrels will take longer."
"We've been given signals that the President will be proposing a timetable that could be less than six months [to open the border to Canadian beef] with clear commitments on the part of the United States," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said on CTV's Question Period news program on Sunday and quoted in the Washington Post.
Pettigrew was referring to one of the most contentious of the cross-border trade issues facing both countries, adding that the expected announcement of a specific date for resuming beef shipments "will be the good news on Tuesday" when Mr. Bush arrives in Ottawa."
To highlight the issue, organizers of the two-day summit have included Alberta-grown beef on the menu at tonight's official dinner hosted by Prime Minister Martin.
Canada's 10 premiers and more than 600 other Canadian and US dignitaries, trade and security officials and business people will also be in attendance.
Canadian cattle ranchers and beef producers have lost more than $2-billion since the ban was imposed by the US almost 18 months ago. Exports were halted when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, was discovered in a single Alberta cow.
According to industry sources, the US ban has cost Canadian taxpayers almost $500 million, the amount of federal compensation to beef producers.
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and several other agencies have since certified that Canadian beef is safe for human consumption.
A senior government official has been quoted as saying that Washington "is likely to allow the resumption of exports some time within the next 150 days, barring some extraordinary Congressional intervention which we do not anticipate."
Also at the top of the list is the long-standing dispute over the 27% tariff slapped on Canadian softwood-lumber exports to the US that has been in place since 1982.
On that topic, he said, "we [the US] continue to have a difference of opinion."
Canada is reportedly drafting a "hit list" of proposed retaliatory measures in what could, in a worst-case scenario, escalate into a full-scale trade war between the two largest trading partners.
Despite the rancor, though, many Canadian diplomats in Washington have said they believe the president is a "genuine free-trader," but some have said they would like to hear him say he will use some political capital with Congress to bring domestic trade laws in line with international treaties.
They cite the current dispute between the US and the World Trade Organization over the failure of Congress to repeal the controversial Byrd Amendment that was ruled in violation of international trade law by the Geneva-based trade group more than two years ago.
This visit is about the two governments "getting back to work" on important bilateral files after the recent US election, a senior Canadian official told the Washington Post. "Don't expect any surprise announcements."
The meeting will be successful if it generates momentum on both sides of the border on important issues, the official said.
The continuing trade disputes on softwood and beef "sometimes lead to the impression in Canada that the relationship with its neighbor to the South is in poor health, despite the overwhelming growth in trade," said Bruce Campbell, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a longtime critic of many of Ottawa's trade policies.
Campbell feels that disputes will always be part-and-parcel of trade relations between the two neighboring countries.
"These disputes are like the Canadian winter," he said. "They're going to be with us all the time."
Tomorrow, the president will travel to Halifax to thank the Atlantic provinces for hosting thousands of stranded American airline passengers whose flights were diverted to Canada during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
The president is accompanied by his wife, Laura Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who will be taking over for Powell at the State Department next year.
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