The opportunity next door: America’s $249 billion relationship with Canada is more than just a bridge battle

Crain’s Detroit Business

by Ellen Mitchell

Fewer regulatory bottlenecks and strong consideration for a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor are needed to strengthen the important trade relationship between the United States and Canada, said panelists at a luncheon hosted by members of the President’s Export Council.

“This is the single most important trade relationship that each of our countries has,” Canadian Consul General Roy Norton said at the Tuesday event. “There are real opportunities here and job growth potential.”

U.S. exports to Canada totaled $249 billion or 14 percent of total U.S. exports in 2010, a $44 billion increase from 2009. Exports between Michigan and Canada grew more than 40 percent.

The event at the Detroit Athletic Club featured a panel discussing border trade challenges and solutions. Participants included David Jacobson, U.S. ambassador to Canada.

The President’s Export Council hopes to double U.S. exports by 2014.

To improve exports to Canada, members of the panel said regulatory measures between the countries must be diminished, and the border needs to improve the movement of goods and people between countries.

“We’ve got hundreds of other things we need to do to improve export between the two countries,” said Jacobson. “The potential we have here is diminished if we fail to do something now to improve things.”

Among the top causes of frustration for U.S. businesses that export to Canada, panelists said: wait times, tariffs, border regulations and maintaining customers’ expectations.

Several members of the panel expressed the need for a new bridge between the U.S. and Canada to support trade between the two countries.

“It’s very important that the government understands, from the view of the private sector, how important it is to have critical infrastructure for businesses that depend on moving things back and forth between Canada,” Norton said.

Border traffic is at the center of an ongoing dispute between Manuel “Matty” Moroun and the governments of Michigan, Ontario and Canada, which want to build a span known as the New International Trade Crossing about two miles down the Detroit River from the current span — the Moroun-owned Ambassador Bridge.

NITC comprises a publicly owned, privately built and operated bridge with publicly funded highway interchanges on both sides of the bridge and a U.S. inspection plaza. Michigan’s estimated $550 million share of the roadwork is being covered by the Canadian government. The cost of the plaza is being shared by Canada and the U.S. government.

Moroun seeks to prevent construction of a rival, publicly owned bridge because he thinks he has a legal monopoly on border bridge traffic. Those who oppose the project say the traffic levels don’t justify building a new bridge.

NITC supporters say traffic is just one reason to build a new bridge. Other justifications are the creation of construction and other jobs and bolstering trade and border security infrastructure between the two nations.