During Canada visit, Obama allays fears of trade protectionism

February 20th, 2009 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Ottawa, Feb 20 (IANS) Setting the tone for his foreign policy during his first visit abroad as US president, Barack Obama said here that his administration would work multilaterally to address trade, global warming and terrorism.
Addressing a joint press conference Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after his six-hour visit here, Obama assured his hosts - and the world at large - that the “Buy America” clause in his $787 billion stimulus package would not hamper trade.

“I want to grow trade and not contract it,” he said, adding that the US would not put its biggest trading partner (Canada) at a disadvantage.

Obama, who had insisted during his election campaign that he would seek renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), also resiled from his hard-line position.

“Now is a time where we’ve got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism,” the president said.

The Canadian prime minister, who has expressed fears about Obama’s stand on NAFTA, re-emphasised at the press conference that renegotiating the agreement - signed by the US, Canada and Mexico in 1992 - would be a “complex” process, as Obama seemed to nod.

With their two-way trade crossing $700-billion last year, Canada sends 80 percent of all its exports to the US. In fact, more than seven million out of 33 million Canadians depend on the US for their jobs.

With Canada’s oil sands and American coal deposits being the major cause of greenhouse emissions in North America, the two leaders agreed to work together to usher in green technologies to cut carbon emissions.

They also proposed “smart” grids for transmission of electricity cleanly across their borders.

“I think the clean energy dialogue is an extraordinary beginning because right now there are no silver bullets to solve all of our energy problems,” said Obama.

“The more that within this hemisphere we can show leadership the more likely it is that we can draw in countries like China and India whose participation is absolutely critical for us to be able to solve this problem over the long term,” the president said.

With Canada setting the December 2011 deadline to pull out of Afghanistan, there was speculation that Obama would put pressure on Ottawa to reconsider its decision.

But the US president clarified that he didn’t pressure the prime minister to change its stand. Instead, he thanked Canadians for their sacrifices in Afghanistan.

Earlier, Obama was welcomed by Canada’s black governor general Michaelle Jean and foreign minister Lawrence Cannon on arrival at Ottawa airport amid tight security.

On his way back to the airport in the evening, the US president surprised everyone by stopping an Ottawa market to pick up a few souvenirs for his daughters.

–Indo-Asian News service


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