PLATTSBURGH — Canada and the United States need to do everything they can to learn more about each other to facilitate one of the world’s most important relationships.
Fulbright Canada CEO Dr. Michael Hawes delivered that message Monday afternoon at the annual distinguished Canadian address at SUNY Plattsburgh.
“My conclusion is that the relationship will continue to be one of the most important in the world for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Hawes said Canada is focused on its economic prosperity and access to the U.S. market. The United States is more concerned about security along the border, especially in the aftermath of 9/11.
He would like to see a detailed plan on ways to develop that relationship, which presently follows a set of guidelines rather than written procedures.
Canada and the United States had $681 billion in two-way trade in 2011. That includes $500 million at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, alone.
“To say our level of interdependence is high doesn’t really capture it,” Hawes said.
That trade has grown by 38 percent in the last decade and 14 percent in the last year. Hawes said Canada is the largest trading partner for 41 of the 50 states in America.
“That makes it astounding that we don’t spend the time to get to know each other better.”
While China now has more imports to the United States, he expects Canada to return to the top spot as China faces its own domestic issues in the coming years. He said there is a strong case to be made that regional relationships are going to become more important in the future.
Hawes expects the economic relationship between the two countries to continue to be strong. He believes the real threat is changes in domestic policy in the two nations.
The Canadian economy didn’t suffer as much during the global economic collapse, he said. Canada has one of lowest debt-to-gross-domestic-product rates in the world at about 34 percent, compared to more than 100 percent in the United States.
All that has emboldened the Canadian government to believe all of its policies were successful. That was only heightened when Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a majority government in the most recent election.
“A Canadian prime minister with a majority government has extraordinary powers,” Hawes said.
That has increased the government’s focus on prosperity.
In the United States, President Barack Obama’s re-election led some to believe he might be able to move forward on several of his causes. Hawes said it is more likely he will have to continue to focus on improving the domestic economy.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Oklahoma — to bring tar-sands oil to refineries in the United States — will continue to be an issue, he said. TransCanada chose the wrong time to seek a presidential permit for the project, Hawes said, as it was too close to the election and Obama felt he needed support from environmental groups.
The company has reapplied for its permit, and a decision is expected early next year. Hawes said he believes approval will come, just one of many pieces needed for the project to become reality.
The United States needs to realize Canada and other trading partners will have other opportunities as global markets expand, Hawes said. He stressed the importance of local communities and states in encouraging the trade relationship with Canada.
He said this comes at a time when his country is reducing the size of its foreign service. That affects its ability to know more about those with whom it is doing business.
“We need to develop a clearer, deeper, more nuanced understanding of each other,” Hawes said.
Email Dan Heath: firstname.lastname@example.org