Canadian Consul General Nadia Theodore speaks at the SEUS-CP trade conference in Mobile on June 4, 2018. (Lawrence Specker/LSpecker@AL.com)
As top officials at a U.S.-Canadian trade conference gathered for dinner Sunday evening in a restaurant near the top of the Mobile skyline, they were treated to a thunderstorm impressive even by Mobile’s standards.
It seems to have established a pretty good metaphor for the tone of the 11th annual SEUS-CP conference: The atmospheric disturbance was certainly attention-grabbing, but it didn’t prevent business from getting done.
At its official opening Monday morning, more than one of those top delegates referred to the previous night’s display as a "light show" incidental to the business of nurturing lucrative economic relationships.
Similarly, more than one referred on Monday morning to the recent eruption of trade-war talk between U.S. and Canada. While that storm was distracting and potentially worrisome, they said, they were going to focus on maintaining deep-rooted trade ties.
SEUS-CP stands for Southeastern U.S.-Canadian Provinces. It’s an annual gathering that highlights ties between Canada and the American South, and those ties add up to many billions of dollars in imports and exports. While SEUS-CP is generally in uncontroversial territory, this year is different: Last week, President Donald Trump’s administration slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau sharply criticized the move, and his administration prepared to impose retaliatory tariffs.
The dispute impacted ongoing efforts to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), leading some to fear that effort has been derailed altogether. And there also are concerns that a tariff fight that started with metals could spread to autos and other sectors of the economy. The back and forth is likely to continue as Trump, Trudeau and other world leaders gather this weekend in Canada for a G7 summit.
"We’ve had a little challenge just now," said Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, the only governor to head a state delegation at the conference. "The future’s big and bright and the important part is Canada and Mississippi and the southeastern United States continue this relationship. … I think the premier said that these are difficulties between friends. We will overcome those. We will become better and stronger than ever because we must."
Bryant got a laugh when he described his state’s relationship with its neighbor to the east, regarding the fight for economic development. "Mississippi and Alabama have his strange relationship," Bryant said. "It’s coopertition. It’s what we do."
A display promoting Alabama at the SEUS-CP U.S.-Canada trade conference features Moon Pies and beads. (Lawrence Specker/LSpecker@AL.com)
Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, who spoke for the Alabama delegation, said he’d seen overwhelming evidence that Canadian investment in Alabama was a major positive force.
"At a time when the benefits of international trade are being debated, at times disputed, at times vigorously," Canfield said, "I think it’s very important for us to take a moment to recognize the importance underlying the special relationship between Canada and the six states that make up the south U.S. For many years, two-year trade between the regions has been substantial, and a driver of economic growth in communities large and small … The SEUS-CP relationship is a textbook example of how international trade can be mutually beneficial by creating jobs, generating opportunities and expanding prosperity."
Nadia Theodore, consul general at the U.S. Consulate of Canada in Atlanta, said that as much as she’d like to avoid talking about the storm outside, she couldn’t.
"We come together today at a very opportune time in our relationship, but at a very challenging time in the history of Canada-U.S. trade," she said. She went on to say that the current flap threatened a longstanding, mutually beneficial bond.
"We are talking about the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship by far," she said. "Canada and the United States have a successful economic and security partnership. And the compelling facts speak continue to speak for themselves. At the national level, Canada is the single largest market for the United States. We buy more from the U.S. than China, Japan and the U.K. combined … Five of the six states in this room have Canada as their number one export market. And each of these six states, by the way, has a trade surplus with Canada."
"Canada and the United States make vehicles together to the benefit of our consumers and workers alike," Theodore said. "For example, Alabama exports $2 billion in automobiles and over $62 million in engines and turbines to Canada. Ottowan auto parts account for the largest share of goods traded between Canada and the southern United States."
"Canada’s exports of aluminum serve companies right here in the Southeast, such as Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota, Boeing, New Flyer and Magna," Theodore said. "All of whom, I am sad to say, could be adversely affected by the recently imposed tariffs on your friend, partner and ally."
After her address, Theodore said she was hopeful that the cooperative spirit of the SEUS-CP gathering could influence higher-level discussions such as the impending G7 meeting.
Trade is "not just about making money for companies," she said. "It’s about making money and creating economic opportunities for actual everyday people, everyday citizens. To me, getting those local relationships and those state-level examples is what’s going to move the dial. And that’s what we’re going to do here.
"We’re going to have Canadian companies talking to southeast U.S. state companies and telling each other about how important that relationship is and how much these tariffs are going to hurt each other’s companies and industries," she said. "And I have every reason to believe those stories are going to trickle up, so to speak."
In this March 29, 2015, photo, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush speak before the first half of a college basketball game in Houston. The former first lady is promoting literacy on her 90th birthday by lending her backing to a $7 million challenge by X Prize and Dollar General. They’re challenging developers to create a mobile app to help improve adult literacy skills. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
Women voters in Alabama weigh their options in the wake of accusations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate romantic behavior against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. (File)