Canada hopes for conciliatory tone from Biden on U.S. protectionist rhetoric
February 7, 2023
By The Canadian Press
The Buy American Act will soon require that 75 percent of component parts for projects procured by the federal government be made in the U.S., up from the original threshold of 55 percent.
A majority of Canadians still see the United States as their country’s closest ally, even in an age of American protectionism, a new poll suggests — but with President Joe Biden poised to deliver his vision for the next two years, they seem less certain that their powerful neighbour is a force for good in the world.
Nearly 70 percent of respondents to the online survey, conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies, said they still see the U.S. as Canada’s best friend, while 16 percent said they disagreed and 15 percent said they didn’t know.
On Feb. 7, Biden will deliver his second state of the union speech since being sworn in as president in 2021 — and many in Canada are hoping to hear a softer, more conciliatory tone on the protectionist rhetoric that marked his first two years in the White House.
But with the speech expected to serve as a soft launch of sorts for the 2024 presidential race, they may be disappointed.
“The president will announce in the state of the union that he is issuing proposed guidance to ensure construction materials from copper and aluminum to fibre optic cable, lumber and drywall are made in America,” the White House said in a statement.
The so-called “Buy America” laws that have been on the books for decades in the U.S. focus mainly on iron and steel for federally funded projects — a “giant loophole” the Biden administration is determined to close, “once and for all, so materials are made in America and support American jobs.”
A separate law, the Buy American Act, will soon require that 75 percent of component parts for projects procured by the federal government be made in the U.S., up from the original threshold of 55 percent.
With all eyes again shifting toward the coming race for the White House, Biden’s protectionist rhetoric is likely aimed mostly at winning over a domestic political audience, and most observers agree that it’s not Canada but Beijing that the U.S. has in its sights.
And with the country up in arms over what Chinese officials insist was a weather balloon that drifted through Canadian and U.S. airspace last week, downed over the weekend by U.S. jet fighters, the president has ample reason to argue for economic decoupling from China.
But it would be a mistake to assume that the U.S. will automatically turn to Canada for its energy, raw materials and manufactured goods, said Flavio Volpe, president of Canada’s Auto Parts Manufacturers Association.
The president has been moving off the “inward focus” that marked the first two years of his presidency, said Louise Blais, a retired Canadian envoy who now serves as a senior adviser to the Business Council of Canada and as diplomat-in-residence at Laval University in Quebec.
“Starting this year, actually, there’s been a real shift in the narrative that he has been using when he casts the issues related to economic security and supply chains,” Blais said.
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