'Many questions' about future of Ontario-U.S. trade relationship: Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne takes part in the closing press conference of the Meeting of First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 15, 2017 2:36PM EST
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will visit the United States next month and head up a new committee on Ontario-U.S. economic and trade relations, as the province braces for protectionism south of the border.
After meeting Wednesday with David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the United States, Wynne spoke of reminding American leaders of Ontario's importance to their economy.
"As Canada's largest economy and the centre of our country's manufacturing, finance, high-tech and clean-tech sectors, Ontario de facto plays a huge role in our bilateral relationship with the United States," she said.
"Of course there are many questions about what Ontario's trade relationship with the U.S. is going to look like in the future. That's a reality. We have questions that are not yet answered. I believe that we have an opportunity at this moment to shape how that partnership will continue."
MacNaughton, who gave Wynne's cabinet a briefing after their meeting, said it's a "very challenging time," but it is important for both Canada and subnational governments such as Ontario to prepare both for a new administration and a growing protectionist climate in the U.S.
"I think we've fallen down a bit on the job in terms of convincing them about how their prosperity and our prosperity are so linked," he said. "That's why the reaching out to not just the people in Washington, but the governors, legislators, right across the United States is so important to building this sense of interdependency and how we can prosper together by working together."
Wynne will travel to the U.S. next month to meet with business and political leaders.
The new committee is set to sit at least monthly between now and September, "or more frequently as necessary."
Other members include the province's representative in Washington, D.C., the international trade minister, the economic development minister, the agriculture minister, Wynne's chief of staff, and the secretary of the cabinet.
The announcements come as part of a major push from Ontario to remind the U.S. in a protectionist era of the province's importance as a trading partner.
Cabinet ministers have been armed with a sheet of talking points to promote Ontario trade when speaking to their colleagues in the U.S. The notes include that Ontario is the top export destination of 20 states and that the auto parts supply chain is so integrated that the average vehicle crosses the Ontario-U.S. border seven times before it is completed. More than US$800 million in goods are traded between the two jurisdictions each day.
Wynne also sent letters to the governors of 27 American states -- the 20 for whom Ontario is the top export destination and another seven ranking Ontario as their second top export market -- and has recently been calling those governors to speak with them directly "to discuss the opportunities to strengthen our relationship."
Trump had been talking about overhauling the North American Free Trade Agreement, but said after meeting Monday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that his main concern is Mexico, and his goal is be to "tweak" elements affecting Canada.
MacNaughton said he is "cautiously optimistic" after those comments that any changes could benefit both sides of the border.