U.S. ambassador urges boost in Canada-U.S. trade

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Oxon Hill, Md. — The U.S. ambassador to Canada wants to expand trade and boost tourism between the two nations.

"I actually think we can have more trade in every area," U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman said in a Detroit News interview on the sidelines of an Obama administration export investment summit. "A strong Canada is in the United States' best interest — and a strong United States, I believe, is in Canada's best interest."

Heyman is a former longtime employee at investment bank Goldman Sachs, where he was a regional managing director of the Midwest private wealth management group.

Dozens of Canadian businesses are attending the summit this week. "These are the kinds of businesses that we'd like to bring to Michigan, we'd like to bring to the Great Lakes community ... and expand your business here," Heyman said.

Canada is the United States' largest trading partner. The U.S. exported $312 billion in goods to Canada last year and imported $346 billion, for a U.S. trade deficit of about $34 billion — up $3 billion over 2013. U.S. exports to Canada rose 3.5 percent last year, while imports from Canada rose 4.1 percent.

Canada is by far the state's largest export market. Of Michigan's $56 billion in exported goods last year, 46 percent went to Canada.

Heyman has written letters to all 50 U.S. governors, urging them to come to Canada to boost trade. Gov. Rick Snyder has made Canadian trade a priority, and went to Canada in 2012 for a six-day trade mission. Michigan shares offices in Canada with other Great Lakes governors.

The ambassador said that he thinks Canada will remain a good place for U.S. automakers to build vehicles. He cited the lower value of the Canadian currency as a "significant advantage."

In July, a Canadian dollar was worth 94 cents; today it is worth about 79 cents. That makes it less expensive in U.S. dollar terms to assemble vehicles in Canada.

"As you think about expanding operations and doing things, you have to take that into account," he said,

Last month, General Motors Co. said it will invest $450 million in its CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, for production of the next-generation Chevrolet Equinox. GM in 2013 announced $250 million for a new body shop and flexible manufacturing equipment and tooling, converting the manufacturing facility to support future vehicle production.

But GM's Oshawa Assembly plant in Ontario could close. GM said last month it will wait until next year before deciding any new vehicle commitments or investments there, but the plant is slated to lose a high-volume vehicle — the Chevy Camaro — this year. GM said it must complete 2016 union contract negotiations with Unifor (the union created by the Canadian Auto Workers' merger with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union) before making a final decision about what might be built at Oshawa.

"Canadians know that they have to be competitive — like all of us do," Heyman said.

Heyman said the new Detroit-Windsor bridge is "moving ahead ... I am excited. I think we're on track now."

In February, Canada agreed to pay to build a U.S. customs plaza for the bridge while the U.S. government finances its operations. A Canadian public-private partnership overseeing the bridge project will pay for constructing the customs plazas on both sides of the border, and the United States will staff, operate and maintain the Detroit customs plaza. Canada will be repaid through toll revenue.

The crossing between Detroit and Windsor is the busiest along the U.S.-Canada border, carrying more than 20 percent of all merchandise trade between the nations through the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Detroit also is a popular crossing for travelers, last year ranking the third-busiest U.S.-Canada crossing for passenger vehicles with more than 4 million. It ranks behind Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Blaine, Wash., according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Port Huron was the fourth-busiest crossing with more than 1.9 million passenger vehicles in 2014.

Last week, Canada and the United States announced a deal aimed at making travel by roadway, rail and water between Michigan and Canada easier.

One point of contention between the Obama administration and Canada has been the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada's tar sands to U.S. refineries. Heyman said he didn't want to minimize any issue, but emphasized the big opportunities for both countries: "I think the opportunity set with regard to doing business together is quite large."