Another View: Trading ideas, mending fences

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It is extremely fortuitous that when the region's U.S. governors and Eastern Canadian premiers meet later this month it will be here in Vermont.

Gov. Phil Scott will host the regional conference in Stowe on Aug. 12-14. The heavy lifting among the region's leaders is scheduled to take place on Monday, Aug. 13.

Since 1973, the six New England states and the five Eastern Canadian provinces have worked cooperatively "to address their shared interests across the border," according to a release issued from Scott's office this week.

The 11 member jurisdictions include: Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Qu bec. In recent years, joint committees between the nations have focused on climate change, energy, transportation and air quality issues. And while those are important issues, the dialogue everyone should be having right now is on the economy.

There are three sessions scheduled. One of them focuses on the trade war. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Trump administration's argument that tariffs were necessary for national security reasons was an "affront" to Canada. So Trudeau imposed his own tariffs on the United States on Canada Day, July 1. The impact on Vermont consumers could be small, but there is a much larger concern as to whether the tariffs will strain or permanently damage the longstanding relationship that Vermont has developed with leaders from Canada. About 40 percent of Vermont's exports go to Canada, and any trade war could hurt the state. Nationally, more than 9 million U.S. jobs depend on U.S.-Canadian trade.

According to state data, Vermont's international exports topped $3 billion. Our northern neighbor is by far the largest international market for Vermont goods.

State officials here remain particularly concerned about how the tariffs will hit agriculture and the automotive and aerospace engineering sectors. Maple also is an industry poised to see change: Vermont imports more maple syrup than it exports. Suffice it to say, other New England states — specifically Maine — are equally alarmed about the long-term economic impacts.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a longtime Trump supporter, is personally representing the Maine delegation at next week's conference because of the pinch he feels the trade war puts on his state.

According to the posted conference schedule, the final 75-minute session for the leaders on Monday afternoon is "Trade in the Region and Shaping our Future Relationship."

"New England and Eastern Canada's trade relationship is intertwined boasting the world's largest bilateral economic relationship with billions of dollars' worth of imports and exports between the two," the description of the session states. "With NAFTA negotiations still underway and changing political environment between the United States and Canada-New England and Eastern Canada have a lot to lose if a compromise is not made. Discussions will include the importance of trade between the region, projections for New England/Eastern Canadian relations with NAFTA, and how the states and provinces can shape the future of trade for the region."

The other two sessions will focus on energy storage and the role of policy to drive electric vehicle innovation. It is hard to know what can realistically be accomplished in just over an hour's time. The topic merits an honest and frank airing.

Last month, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was interviewed on Vermont Public Radio about the important relationship Vermont and Quebec have in the region. He told "Vermont Edition" host Jane Lindholm, "We should be allied as we have always been . It has always been a very profitable exchange for both countries." Couillard called the tariffs first imposed by the U.S. as "very surprising and unnecessary measures."

Couillard also is attending the conference personally as well, leading his delegation. At no time in recent history has a meeting of regional leaders ever been so important. The discussion and message that comes from this regional meeting could help dictate what President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau do next in this ongoing economic quagmire, and to change the international dialogue.

Hopefully, Vermont's Scott, as host and chairman over the conference, can use his sway, cool-headedness and penchant for coalition-building to oversee a productive and potentially profitable meeting for all of New England and Eastern Canada. Opportunities like this do not happen often. Through Vermont's leadership and our delegation hosting this timely and important summit, perhaps a new path toward mended fences can actually begin.

— The Barre Montpelier Times Argus

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