The New England-Canada Business Council held a virtual discussion this week with stakeholders in Vermont and Canada about the impact of the USMCA trade agreement on Vermont, cross-border trade, the pandemic and renewable energy.
The USMCA, or U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, was negotiated during the Trump administration to replace the NAFTA trade pact between the three countries. A roundtable discussion sponsored by the New England-Canada Business Council focused on the pact’s cross-border trade and clean energy initiatives.
Vermont at-large Democratic Congressman Peter Welch noted the long-term connection between the state and Canada.
“It’s mutually beneficial for us in every single way that we have the maximum ease of commerce, the maximum ease of social back-and-forth," Welch said. "But it’s especially true for business. Canada is our major export market. We import actually more than we export from Canada. With COVID it’s an incredible disruption for all of us and of course it’s been very very painful the impact that’s had on cross border communication and travel.”
On January 25th, just days after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at strengthening the Buy America Act that requires the federal government to purchase U.S. made products whenever possible. The Consul General of Canada to the U.S. was scheduled to comment but when his connection failed his aide Mark Jean stepped in to express their concerns about the Buy America mandates.
“Local content requirements such as Buy America initiatives negatively affect long-standing cross border supply chains putting at risk U.S. and Canadian jobs," Jean said. "We’re each other’s most trusted suppliers for manufactured products. While the border will be closed until at least April 21st we are all well aware of pressures on both sides of the border to re-open to non-essential travel. Experts in the political and commercial fields are actively considering all options possible.”
Quebec Delegate to Boston Marie-Claude Francoeur believes there are opportunities under the USMCA for Vermont and Quebec to fight climate change while continuing regional business cooperation.
“The first is the growing electric vehicle industry specifically the batteries powering EV," Francoeur said. "It will be increasingly important for our economy and for our respective security to have a supply of strategic material, minerals that are used for batteries. Quebec is fortunate to have the natural resources needed and the clean tech knowledge to build EV batteries from the conception to the recycling with each step of the process powered by clean power. Aluminum is another example of a strategic industry covered by the treaty. Quebec is among the world’s largest aluminum producers and our aluminum is clean made with clean hydropower.”
Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development Deputy Commissioner Brett Long oversees the state’s economic development programs. He says the integrated supply chain between Vermont and Quebec must be fostered.
“It’s also important to recognize the import of Vermont as a toehold for Canadian manufacturers looking to expand their operations in the U.S.," Long said. "For us it’s a great partnership. Also want to focus on the renewable energy sector. A little over 65% of our electricity comes from renewable sources. This is the largest share of any state. And obviously a large part of that is the fact that we have such a great relationship with HydroQuebec. There’s a lot of opportunities in the renewable sector. We should be focused on trying to deepen our relationships going forward in renewable energy.”
Deputy Commissioner Long reported that over 40 percent of Vermont’s exports go to Canada with about 4 percent of the state’s workforce supporting the export activity.