President Barack Obama receives his first visit from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House today. As a testament to the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship, this will be the seventh time Obama and Harper have met since the new President took office. Health care is not likely to make the agenda, but trade, energy and the environment, Afghanistan, and border management are expected to be discussed.
Americans might not know much about these issues, but maybe they should. For example, Canada is a top trading partner of the United States, with nearly $750 billion in two-way trade in 2008. The U.S. economy is not only fueled by Canadian trade, but also, literally, by Canadian energy. Canada has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, and is consistently one of the top three suppliers of oil to the United States. Along with the need for coordinated environmental management along the 5,500 mile (8,900 kilometer) U.S.-Canadian border, the United States and Canada recently began a Clean Energy Dialogue to help speed the transition to greater use of clean energy sources in both countries. Canada has been a partner in the fight against terrorism and currently has 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Our ability to increase security along the northern border since September 11, 2001, has also depended on Canadian cooperation.
But despite all the positives, all is not always well with the U.S.-Canada relationship, mostly because we sometimes forget that our actions can have unintended consequences for our neighbors to the north. The Buy American provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act penalize the United States and Canada by restricting the ability of Canadian companies to provide goods and services to the U.S. government and the companies with which they have existing relationships. And while we need to protect our borders against terrorist incursions, we must also be mindful that licit goods and services the United States depends on have to be able to make their way to and from Canada.
Because we cooperate so closely with Canada on so many issues, what’s bad for Canada often ends up being bad for the United States as well. Paying more attention to Canada would benefit everyone.
*Nicole Spencer is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is director of energy policy and North American affairs at the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.