Harper, Obama discuss pipeline, border security
Canada wants to join Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement
Prime Minister Harper met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the APEC summit in Hawaii to discuss bilateral issues including the Keystone XL pipeline and a border security deal.
Harper was also invited to Washington in December, where the two leaders are likely to revisit those same issues.
While no concrete announcements were made following the meeting at the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, the two leaders discussed several issues, including the recently announced delay in the U.S. State Department decision regarding TransCanada's $7-billion Keystone pipeline. Obama reportedly told the prime minister that delaying the pipeline project until 2013 will ensure that all questions are properly addressed.
Harper said earlier he was "disappointed" with the delay.
Another issue of concern was the ongoing negotiation for a border security deal that was announced with much fanfare nine months ago but appears to have lost much of its lustre. The two leaders said negotiations continue, and Harper signalled an announcement was coming in the very near future.
Earlier Sunday, Harper said he is confident a series of U.S. decisions counter to Canadian interests are simply products of the "political season" and don't represent a fundamental shift in American policy.
The Keystone delay was only the latest decision by U.S. legislators and regulators unfavourable to Canada.
"Remember, not all these things are final decisions," Harper said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit. "I think Canadians would be wrong to interpret any of these decisions as against Canada.
Revived 'Buy American' provisions
"This is simply the political season in the United States and decisions are being made for domestic political reasons that often have little or nothing to do with what other countries may think."
Obama's administration recently revived its "Buy American" provisions, potentially costing Canadian businesses billions of dollars in U.S. sales, and in the budget proposal he tabled last week the president proposed a $5.50 "passenger inspection fee" for Canadian air travellers.
On Thursday, the State Department ordered TransCanada to reroute its proposed pipeline and subject it to further environmental assessment.
The 2,700-kilometre pipeline would bring crude from the new oilsands expansions in northern Alberta to be turned into gasoline and other fuels in Texas, the hub of the American refining industry.
Canada has lobbied hard for an expanded pipeline to be built, saying it would provide jobs and economic benefit to both countries.
Asian markets vital
"We have already indicated of course that we are disappointed," Harper said. "Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that the project will eventually go ahead because it makes eminent sense.
"I would also point out — I think it's important to note — that there has been extremely negative reaction to this decision in the United States because this pipeline and this project is obviously what's in the best interests of not just of the Canadian economy but also the American economy."
Nevertheless, he said the decisions also underscore the need for Canada to secure access to Asian markets for its energy products.
"That will be an important priority of this government going forward," he said, noting he raised the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday.
During the news conference, Harper announced Canada's formal desire to join the Trans Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free-trade agreement that has so far excluded Canada.
He said Canada can easily meet all the criteria for membership, "so it is something that we are interested in moving forward on."
Ahead of his talks with Obama, Harper met Saturday with American business leaders gathered for an Asia Pacific business summit.
Obama and Hu both addressed the gathering, but Harper held a more intimate discussion with executives from FedEx, Time Warner, Walmart Asian, Johnson and Johnson and Cargill.
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who was also at the table, said it was like meeting with family.
"We value the extraordinary relationship we have between the United States and Canada," Tom Donahue said. "We have a list of issues that will consume a lot of discussion."