More groundwork needed to maintain Canada-U.S. relations, summit hears

  • Canadian Press

The head of BMO says there's no room for complacency in Canada-U.S. trade relations as the bank co-hosts a conference focused on key issues faced by both countries. People make their way past the Bank of Montreal building in the Financial District of Toronto, Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

TORONTO -- More needs to be done to maintain North American relations in an increasingly competitive and volatile world, attendees at the U.S.-Canada Summit in Toronto heard on Tuesday.

Canada needs to do more to lay groundwork today to avoid being surprised again on trade agreement talks, said Darryl White, chief executive of BMO, which co-hosted the conference with Eurasia Group.

"It's fair to say that business communities and the public were caught pretty much off guard when NAFTA was revisited," said White.

"We need to be more ready this time."

He said Canadians don't understand the level of opposition there was in the U.S. to the agreement, and that it's crucial to widen support for the trade relation.

"Private and public-sector leaders must ensure that Main Street benefits of deeper partnerships in an increasingly complex world are well understood."

U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen went some way to assure attendees that there's no seismic shift approaching as the North American trade agreement comes up for renewal in 2026.

"It's not a renegotiation," said Cohen.

"It's a review ... there is no interest in the United States in renegotiating."

Other issues between the two countries, including Canada's limited defence spending and border issues were also in discussion, though speakers aimed to downplay those concerns.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly looked to assure that Canada has heard criticism and plans to ramp up spending.

"Canadians are now understanding that the world has changed and we need to invest more in defence."

In April, the federal government announced spending plans that would get spending towards 1.76 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade, though still short of the two per cent NATO commitment.

While the ongoing shortfall is source of tension with some U.S. politicians, Joly said Canada is aiming to ramp up spending further.

"I'm convinced that we can be on a path to two per cent," she said.

The importance of defence spending comes as the world faces conflicts on several fronts, said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group.

"We are in a materially more dangerous place than we were a year ago."

He said that given the uncertainty in the world, it's all the more important to maintain relations between Canada and the U.S.

"This relationship is no longer just nice to have, it's increasingly strategically essential."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BMO)