Premier Doug Ford will travel to Washington, D.C. next week to unveil a new trade strategy aimed at strengthing economic ties with the country that is Ontario’s largest trading partner and countering “Buy American” policies south of the border.
Ford says he and Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli are heading to the winter meeting of the National Governors’ Association from Feb. 7 to 9 to continue “many of the productive discussions we’ve started over the past year to remove trade barriers and to promote investment and economic opportunity.”
The premier did not reveal details of the new strategy but said “this is about making it easier for people on both sides of the border to do business with each other.”
He has previously sounded off against “Buy American” policies that jeopardize the lucrative $390 billion a year in two-way trade between Ontario and the U.S.
“Buy American” polices force large infrastructure and airline projects that receive federal funding to have high levels of U.S. content or manufactured goods, limiting opportunities for Ontario and Canadian companies to bid on them.
Ford focused on one U.S. jurisdiction in a 10-minute speech Thursday to the Canada 360 Economic Summit at the MaRS building across the street from Queen’s Park.
“We’re in talks with the state of Ohio to move forward with a new ground-breaking approach…we’re looking to improve market access and procurement opportunities for Ontario and Ohio businesses. It’s an approach that will allow us to address the challenges we face with a damaging, and I repeat that — damaging — buy American policies,” the premier said.
“When I’m down there I’m preaching that constantly….once we roll this out we have a way of possibly getting around this Buy American policy. We can’t afford to stand back and wait, we’re taking action because Buy American policies are hurting Ontario businesses and workers.”
Ohio represents about $2.5 billion in government procurement opportunities for Ontario businesses, Ford said, with those businesses looking at similar prospects on the north side of Lake Erie.
Ford visited Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, last September in Columbus and warned “protectionism, it’s just not going to work” at a meeting of the Ohio-Canada Business Association, where he said Canada and the U.S. are better working together as a bloc to compete with India and China.
In Washington, Ford and Fedeli will meet with governors, their state officials and business leaders while in Washington to press efforts to keep cross-border commerce flowing.
“Make no mistake about it, I’m a business person first and an elected official second. I believe in building relationships,” the premier told the crowd of business executives.
“I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat, we have great relationships with so many governors, and making sure…we get the message out: invest here in Ontario.”
Ford noted a delegation of state governors is coming to Toronto from April 21-23, headed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, chair of the National Governors’ Association, for an “infrastructure study tour.”
“We will showcase to the United States governors that come up here what an incredible province we have.”
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It’s not clear how many governors will come. Ontario is the no. 1 trading partner to 19 states and no. 2 to nine other states.
Ford said he was pleased that U.S. President Donald Trump signed the new free trade pact with Canada and Mexico known as the USMCA and said he supports the Trudeau government’s passage of it to help provide “much needed certainty” to businesses.