Security deal won't solve trade problems: Liberals

A North American perimeter security deal won't do anything to break down trade barriers, the Liberals' international trade critic said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint press conference in Washington, DC, Friday Feb. 4, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

A new agreement on North American perimeter security won't do anything to break down trade barriers, the Liberal party's international trade critic said Tuesday.

Plus, the discussions are happening mostly behind the scenes, leaving Canadians in the dark about what's at stake, Martha Hall Findlay told reporters in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4 to announce the beginning of talks toward a Canada-U.S. agreement on border security. An agreement is meant to help the countries integrate their cross-border law enforcement and work together on cyber-security, address security threats early and ease trade across the border.

But Hall Findlay said the security agreement won't help exporters facing barriers to selling to U.S. buyers. She pointed to unresolved problems with the Buy American Act, a law limiting 2009 stimulus spending to projects using American-only material, as well as U.S. country-of-origin labelling rules and increased truck inspections.

"Those are not security inspections, they are non-tariff trade barriers. And we are not seeing results from the Harper government at all on any of these issues," she said.

"We're being sold this idea that somehow a security perimeter ... is somehow in the guise of increasing trade between Canada and the U.S., we just don't see it."

Concerns over sovereignty, privacy

Hall Findlay said the Liberals "feel very strongly" about giving up any sovereignty over Canadian security. She's also worried about travellers to Canada having to give up personal information to U.S. authorities, even if they don't plan to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

"We do have significant concerns about what Harper is giving up here. We do not want Canada's borders being managed by U.S. Homeland Security," Hall Findlay said.

"I don't want a lot of my personal information in the hands of U.S. Homeland Security. I'm sorry, but they don't have a track record that inspires a whole lot of confidence."

Support for talks

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters says they don't know the details of the talks, but they're pleased the two governments are working together.

Birgit Matthiesen, who represents the CME in Washington, D.C., says an increase in goods from countries with lower production standards has meant an increase in inspections, which exporters have to pay for. She hopes the security and regulatory measures Harper has mentioned publicly will help ease the costs and time delays those inspections bring.

"Even a perimeter approach, we hope will contribute much to what we are calling for," she said.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called the perimeter security talks a practical solution to reduce obstacles to trade.

"The Ignatieff Liberals are deliberately misleading Canadians in an attempt to justify their out-of-touch position on our trade talks with President Obama. More than $1.6 billion crosses the border every single day, creating jobs and opportunities for both Canadians and Americans alike. We need to keep that trade flowing," Lynn Meahan wrote in an email.

Hall Findlay noted that, despite the argument a more integrated border would ease some of the Americans' concerns about accepting Canadian goods and travellers, the 2012 U.S. budget includes a proposal that would charge Canadian travellers $5.50 (U.S.) to enter the United States by air. There's also a bill in front of Congress that would increase taxes on goods going into the country.

She says the government has to be more active in tackling American concerns.

"You have to have people on the ground ... you need to talk to (U.S. lawmakers), you need to understand what their concerns are and you need to address those concerns with facts," she said. Canadians also need to know the details of the talks with the United States, she said, accusing Harper of being too secretive.

Hall Findlay said that's in stark contrast to former prime minister Brian Mulroney's approach to the NAFTA talks in the 1980s. Mulroney announced the negotiations in the House of Commons once they'd started and later tabled a report to update MPs, she said.