Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Bonjour, and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.
I am Jon Allen, the assistant deputy minister for the Americas at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, responsible for North and South America. With me today from the department are Laurent Cardinal, the director general of the North America trade policy bureau, and Kevin Thompson, the director of the government procurement, trade, and environment division. They are the real trade policy experts here. Kevin has just returned from the embassy, spending a number of years there, and Laurent is a long-time trade policy expert.
We have been asked here today to address the draft Buy American provisions in the proposed American Jobs Act of 2011. In my opening remarks I hope to provide an overview of the proposed bill, its Buy American provision, and the framework in place between Canada and the United States to address government procurement issues. I'll also summarize the specific steps taken by the Minister of International Trade and others here in Ottawa and throughout the United States to respond to this issue. Following my remarks, we will welcome your questions and comments.
At the outset, it is important to emphasize that Canada is not opposed to the American Jobs Act per se. As the Prime Minister stated in an open letter to the chairman of the G-20, the administration's job plan “will provide a welcome impetus to growth in the short term” in the United States. However, Canada regrets the inclusion of new Buy American restrictions in this bill. New trade restrictions, if passed into law, would send a negative signal to governments around the word that trade restrictions are an acceptable policy. They would also negatively affect both the Canadian and U.S. economies at this fragile point of the global recovery and run the risk of inviting similar responses elsewhere. Given the integrated nature of Canada-U.S. supply chains, new restrictions harm not only Canadian exporters but also U.S. firms that rely on Canadian inputs and U.S. governments that have come to rely on innovative Canadian products. We do much more than just trade with each other; we build things together.
On procurement, both Canada and the U.S. face huge challenges in improving our infrastructure on both sides of the border. We need to ensure there is as much competition as possible to maximize value for taxpayers. We know that free and open trade is the best way to protect and create jobs, to lower prices, and to produce better results in both our countries. That is the message we have taken and will continue to take to Washington.
Now to the American Jobs Act. On September 8 President Obama outlined his plan to address persistently high unemployment in the U.S. On September 12 his administration publicly released its legislative proposal, the American Jobs Act. This bill contains numerous elements, including payroll tax relief, transfer payments to prevent public sector layoffs, and investment in infrastructure. The administration estimates the total cost of the bill at $447 billion.
The bill also contains a Buy American provision that prohibits the use of any funds for the construction, repair, or maintenance of public infrastructure unless all iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the U.S. This provision is nearly identical to the Buy American provision found in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with which many of you will be familiar. The bill also stipulates that the Buy American requirement must be applied consistently with the United States' international trade obligations.
I should note that the bill is very much at the first stage of the legislative process. Despite President Obama's urging that Congress pass the bill quickly, numerous steps are required before it can be adopted. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has to assess the costs of the bill. In both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the bill will be referred to relevant committees, of which there are several.
Given the nature of the U.S. legislative system, it is unknown at this point what the final text will look like in comparison to the current draft proposals, or even if there will be a final text that becomes law. As you know, over the summer the debate in Congress over the increase to the U.S. debt ceiling and concerns about the size of U.S. deficit led to increased political tensions in Washington. In August 2011 the House Republicans introduced their own job creation plan, called “Plan for American Job Creators”. How these competing legislative proposals ultimately will fare is unknown at this stage.
Given this context, it's fair to say that the legislative path for this bill is quite uncertain. Moreover, we should bear in mind that while Buy American is an extremely important issue for Canadians--and as such is the one that the Canadian government has and will continue to engage on--other elements in the bill, such as the government's role in the economy and tax policy, will loom larger in the debate on Capitol Hill. We need to keep this in mind as we actively respond to this draft legislation.
It's also important to emphasize at this time that it is very difficult to calculate precise estimates of the potential impact of the bill on Canadian interests. The proposed funding mechanisms in the bill are complex, the distribution patterns of Canadian suppliers varied, and the application of U.S. international obligations content-specific. The bill stipulates that Buy American provisions must be applied consistently with U.S. international trade obligations.
That said, we are able and happy to share with you some preliminary observations. The Buy American provision is limited to funding for public infrastructure authorized by the bill. It does not affect other pre-existing authorization legislation that applies to annual appropriations. In other words, the majority of the federal transfers to states are not affected by this legislation. It applies only to goods, not services. The bill also provides for the waiver of the Buy American provision under certain circumstances, from which Canadian firms have benefited in the past.
The bill proposes funding amounting to approximately $105 billion for several infrastructure programs to which the Buy American provision would apply. However, this figure represents the total size of the intended U.S. stimulus, not the value of lost opportunities for Canadian exporters. That figure is considerably lower based on numerous factors, including labour costs and professional services, neither of which would be subject to Buy American provisions, as well as taxes and contractor profit. We would be happy to elaborate further in the question period; that's of course the royal 'we', as my trade policy colleagues are much better able to get into those details than I am.
Now, if I may, I'd like to turn to the framework currently in place between Canada and the U.S. regarding government procurement.
Since the mid-1990s, Canada and the U.S. have granted each other reciprocal commitments in relation to federal government procurement. These are found in the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and the World Trade Organization agreement on government procurement. These commitments, however, did not extend to procurement at the provincial, territorial, or state level.
In February 2010, as a result of concerns from Canadian suppliers regarding the Buy American provision of the 2009 recovery act, Canada and the U.S. concluded the Canada-U.S. government procurement agreement, CUSPA.
The CUSPA--we officials have acronyms for everything--has three main elements. First, Canada and the U.S. exchanged commitments in relation to subnational procurement. Canadian suppliers now have guaranteed access to covered procurement in 37 U.S. states, while Canada made procurement commitments in all provinces and territories except Nunavut. These commitments are subject to certain limitations and exclusions, but as a result, after 15 years, Canadian suppliers now have the same guaranteed access to subnational procurement opportunities in the U.S. as other members of the WTO agreement on procurement.
Second, Canada and the U.S. exchanged temporary commitments in relation to certain types of infrastructure spending at the local level. The U.S. granted Canada a waiver from the Buy American provision of the 2009 recovery act for seven programs of interest to Canadian firms. In exchange, Canada granted U.S. suppliers secure access to infrastructure projects by certain provincial crown corporations and municipalities. These temporary commitments expire on September 30, 2011, because they coincide with the full expenditure of recovery act funds.
The third element of the CUSPA, and a particularly critical aspect for purposes of this discussion, is the agreement reached in 2010, a commitment by Canada and the U.S. to enter into discussions to explore possible expansion of government procurement commitments on a reciprocal basis. Two constructive meetings in furtherance of this commitment have already taken place.
Finally, the agreement includes a consultation mechanism for any matter related to government procurement. Under this mechanism, either party can request a consultation with the other, which is precisely what Minister of International Trade Fast did on behalf of the Government of Canada with his U.S. counterpart.
Shortly after the public release of the Obama administration's proposed American Jobs Act, our Minister of International Trade took quick and decisive action by writing to his U.S. counterpart, U.S. trade representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, to formally invoke this consultation mechanism. Consultations are scheduled to take place in Washington tomorrow morning. Indeed, my colleague, Mr. Cardinal, will represent Canada in Washington tomorrow.
The minister has also spoken with both Ambassador Kirk and U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson. The minister reminded both ambassadors that as each other's largest trading partners, both American and Canadian workers and businesses do best when trade-restrictive policies are not pursued. Minister Fast expressed the Government of Canada's concern with the proposed Buy American provisions and reiterated to each ambassador the Government of Canada's position that long-term economic growth and good jobs are best protected and created by broadening and deepening our trading relationships and removing trade barriers.
In addition, numerous other senior officials, including the Deputy Minister of International Trade and our ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, have reinforced the government's concerns with their U.S. counterparts.
Beyond pressing our case with members of the administration, given Congress's role in the preparation of the legislation, the Government of Canada is also reaching out to members of the House and to the Senate to outline our concerns, to explain the negative impact Buy American could have on U.S. firms and jobs, and to enlist their assistance.
We are also coordinating with industry groups in both Canada and the U.S. that opposed Buy American so that our shared concerns can be fully taken into account in any future debate.
In summary, the minister and the department and our missions in the U.S. continue to react in a timely and balanced fashion to this regrettable development. We are identifying where the potential problems may lie. We are proceeding in a deliberate and sustained manner, even as we are also aware of the significant legislative uncertainties associated with this bill.
Beyond this issue, ladies and gentlemen, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture, of the depth of the broader bilateral relationship. Canada and the U.S. share the largest and most dynamic bilateral trading relationship in the world. With almost $1.8 billion in goods and services crossing the border each day, the vast majority of these transactions, which total almost $700 billion per year, are free of irritants and disputes. The U.S.-Canadian trade relationship is the deepest and the broadest, and notwithstanding our concerns with the proposed Buy American provisions in this draft bill--and those concerns are real--this clearly remains the case.
Beyond the economic sphere, Canada and the U.S. work together, as you know, on a wide variety of issues that range from defence cooperation to border management, security, energy, and the environment, just to name a few.
In short, the relationship between our countries is broad and mature and durable. The Government of Canada will continue to meaningfully engage with the U.S. government on these important matters of shared economic interest.
With that, I hope I have kept within the ten minutes.