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Why Canada shouldn’t ignore Biden’s state of the union focus on ‘Buy American’

Politics·Analysis

Some Canadians tuning in to hear Joe Biden's state of the union address Tuesday night may have been surprised, and possibly a little disconcerted, about how much prominence the president gave to his Buy American initiatives.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivered his state of the union address Tuesday night, in which he gave a lot of prominence to his Buy American initiatives.(Jim Lo Scalso/The Associated Press)

Some Canadians tuning in to hear U.S. President Joe Biden's state of the union address Tuesday night may have been surprised, and possibly a little disconcerted, about how much prominence he gave to his Buy American initiatives.

It was the perfect forum for a president hobbled by sinking approval numbers and facing congressional losses in the 2022 midterms to champion an idea that enjoys broad support at home. But it did raise questions whether Canadian businesses, already anxious about these protectionist provisions, should be more concerned following Biden's remarks.

Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council in Washington, D.C., said Buy American is part of Biden's "DNA as leader."

"He's pretty clearly campaigned on it. His legislative package is all about it. He talks about it in every opportunity," she said.

'Blue collar appeal'

Christopher Sands, director of the Wilson Center Canada Institute, said that it's an issue where Biden has shown consistency, and that it's part of his "blue collar appeal."

"This is one of those phrases that resonates with Congress and with voters. [He] tried to use it to send a signal, not necessarily to Canadians, but to voters."

Buy American, which calls for U.S. tax dollars and government contracts to be spent on American companies as much as possible, has been part of Biden's push to revitalize the manufacturing sector in the U.S.

Manufacturers have been attracted by lower wages and weaker environmental standards in China and other countries in recent decades.

"When we use taxpayers' dollars to rebuild America, we are going to do it by buying American. Buy American products. Support American jobs … Every administration says they'll do it, but we are actually doing it," Biden said during the state of the union, which prompted chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" from Democratic members.

U.S. proposal could impact Canada's auto sector

Biden argued the best way to fight inflation was to boost manufacturing in the U.S.

"Instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let's make it in America," he said.

While his message was most likely more directed at China, Canada has been concerned about certain Buy American provisions, including U.S. proposals to offer $12,500 US in tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles, which could have a devastating impact on Canada's auto sector.

One senior Canadian government official with direct knowledge of the situation told CBC News that they felt it did matter that Biden made Buy American a focus of his speech, which is why Canada keeps making the argument to Americans that it is a valuable and reliable supply chain partner.

'Have to be vigilant'

Greenwood said Biden's comments were certainly a reminder that on this issue, Canadians will "have to be vigilant," and "continually remind Americans about how integrated we are."

Sands said that Canadians should keep an eye on whether other politicians, specifically young rising stars, start echoing Biden's line for the need to Buy American in the coming days.

"Then you worry that he sort of planted the seed that's going to be with us for some time," Sands said.

"The important thing is not what the president said. It's how other important politicians … respond to that."

Kathryn Friedman, a global fellow at the Wilson Center Canada Institute, said the recent blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., didn't help the Canadian case against Buy American.

It delayed billions worth of goods travelling between Canada and the United States.

The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., stopped movement on and off the bridge for six days.(Mike Evans/CBC)

"I think that the truck protests probably gave fuel to folks in the United States who are interested in reshoring everything," Friedman said.

That sentiment has already been expressed some Democratic lawmakers. Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell told CBC News last month that the blockade made her question the wisdom of relying on imports from Canada.

"We cannot let ourselves be held hostage to these kinds of situations," she said. "If this is going to become a new and regular situation, we've got to bring our supply chain back home. We can't count on this bilateral relationship we have."

Meanwhile Michigan Democrat Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin tweeted that the blockades were a reminder that "it doesn't matter if it's an adversary or an ally — we can't be this reliant on parts coming from foreign countries."

However Michigan Republican Congressman Bill Huizenga told CBC News after the state of the union that he didn't believe those events make the Buy American case, or that Biden's comments were a reaction to those events.

"I think there's lack of awareness more than an intent to to cut Canada out."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

    With files from Katie Simpson, Reuters

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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