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Canadian Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough keynotes on NAFTA in Portland

One of Oregon's — and the nation's — top export countries is Canada, in a two-way relationship that is now being promoted by a new Canadian initiative.

With a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal on the line, Carla Qualtrough, Canadian Minister of Public Services and Procurement, traveled to Portland to promote trade at the Oregon Consular Corps' Trade Gala.

In D.C., talks last week between the Canadian government and the U.S. outlined reaching a "skinny" NAFTA agreement as a possibility, which would focus on modernizing the environmental and digital commerce chapters. However, many politicians are still negative about the prospects of getting approval from Congress.TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Carla Qualtrough, Canadian Minister of Public Services and Procurement, speaks during the Oregon Consular Corps Trade Gala.

Ahead of her keynote at the Portland Gala, Minister Qualtrough spoke exclusively with the Tribune.

Her agenda while in town included meeting up with Mayor Ted Wheeler, Governor Kate Brown and representatives from both the public and private sectors to discuss the state of NAFTA negotiations and what's at stake for Oregon.

"I want to highlight the strengths of the relationships and common values," Qualtrough said. "I spent the morning talking to the mayor, stakeholders, meeting with the governor. Oregon is such a welcoming, progressive, diverse state — you respect diversity and understand springing from that is tolerance and celebration of diversity."

The Minister of Public Services and Procurement in Canada is a position responsible for overseeing federal public works and government services. The department is responsible for the internal servicing and adminstration of the federal government.

Although she's just in town to speak on bilateral trade and intergovernmental relationships regarding NAFTA this week, it's not her first time to the area.

"I grew up on the West Coast, traveled here with family on vacation growing up, swam here as part of a varsity swim team and am quite familiar with the area," Qualtrough told the Tribune. "I understand there's some microbrewery beer I have to partake in. I want to enjoy the atmosphere of Portland — it's so vibrant, I can't wait to get out and about and walk around."

NAFTA and Oregon

NAFTA is the biggest and most comprehensive economic region in the world, with a market of 480 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product of $21 trillion.

The U.S. and Canada held high-level NAFTA deal meetings Thurdsay, May 17, to assess whether they can iron out some of the tough issues, according to Bloomberg, which said there's little prospect for agreement.

Bloomberg reported House Speaker Paul Ryan said he'd need to be notified of intent to sign a new NAFTA by May 17 to give the current Congress enough time to approve the deal this year. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday told a group of Democratic lawmakers that he did't expect a deal to be completed by the May 17 deadline — or in the immediate term.

It wasn't by early this week and that's when talks of a "skinny" NAFTA came about.

"This is a very exciting time for us: we're working hard on renegotiations of NAFTA on a variety of diferent issues that impact both our countries," Qualtrough said ahead of her keynote. "I want to highlight how common our values are, both on a value level and economically — how interdependent our economies are, how vibrant and rich our social supply teams are."

The Canadian government is working to strengthen this relationship to create new opportunies for workers and businesses in both countries.

"I want to highlight the importance of strong relationships (between governments), and this we have between Canada and the U.S.," Qualtrough said. "Our prime minister (Justin Trudeau) recognizes the value of getting out across the countries, talking to partners, building relationships. Our government believes it's very beneficial to focus on relationships across the U.S. at various levels of government within industries, stakeholder groups and civil society, just really forging those relationships so that when we get to negotiation tables we can build upon those to find solutions."

Canada is the top export market for the majority of American states and in the top three markets of 48 states, including Oregon, where it is second. Products and industries range from aerospace parts to tree fruit, from machinery to building materials and from semi-conductors to energy products.

"We know how, like Canada, Oregon is dependent on trade," Qualtrough said. "We have a really robust trading relationships with Oregon. If you look at everything from the number of jobs that depend on trade and investment with Canada, there are 98,000 jobs in Oregon."

Across the U.S., nearly 9 million jobs are directly and indirectly linked to Canadian trade and investment.

"It would be really helpful if we all remember how interdependent our economies really are: Americans work for Canadian companies, Canadians work for American companies, our supply trades are intertwined," Qualtrough said. "It's a trade relationships that historically has been close and quite frankly balances. We want to preserve that relationship and build it up moving forward, and use the people talking about NAFTA to renegotiate deals, broaden and improve the relationship and terms, if you will."

Another positive point is the Canada-U.S. border — the world's longest secure border, over which approximately 400,000 people, goods and services worth $1.95 billion, cross daily. Canada and U.S. trading is one of the largest relationships on earth.

"We share economically reciprocity in the tourism industry, and more than 44,000 Canadians come to Oregon every year," Qualtrough said. "These are key."

Oregon exported more than $1.79 billion worth of goods and services to Canada in 2017, an increase of more than 8 percent from 2016.

"We talk about Canada being the second-biggest export market for your state, but quite frankly, Canada is the biggest customer for the U.S. overall — bigger than the U.K., Japan and China combined," adding up to $283 billion, Qualtrough said. "We're a really good customer for your country and state, and it's reciprocal — you are very important for us as well."

Trump has repeated he would pull the U.S. out of NAFTA agreements if negotiators couldn't get a "better deal."

According to CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said," For the moment, the president is focused on the agreement that he wants to get between the three countries, and then we'll figure out how to get it through Congress."

But Qualtrough has a different, more positive angle to the renegotiation.

"We're a very progressive government and we think it's an opportunity to build into NAFTA elements related to gender equity, the environment, the indigenous communities — there are a lot of progressive elements we think should be included," Qualtrough said.

Who is Carla Qualtrough?

Minister, lawyer, athlete, volunteer, parent of four

  • Has degrees in political science from the University of Ottawa and law from the University of Victoria
  • Previously Canada's Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
  • Winner of three Paralympic and four World Championship medals
  • Has been named one of Canada's Most Influential Women in Sport six times
  • Received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012
  • Chaired the Minister's Council on Employment and Accessibility in British Columbia
  • Was an adjudicator with the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal
  • Was president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada
  • Served on the Board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, and was Vice-Chair of the Delta Gymnastics Society
  • By Jules Rogers
    Reporter, The Business Tribune
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