Obama reassures Canada on open trade

Thu Feb 19, 2009 6:07pm EST
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By Ross Colvin and Jeff Mason

OTTAWA (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday assured Canada, his country's biggest trading partner, he would not pursue protectionist policies and the two neighbors agreed to cooperate on cleaner energy technology.

Obama, on his first trip abroad as president, sought in talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to allay Canadian concerns raised by a "Buy American" clause in a $787 billion U.S. economic recovery plan he signed this week.

"Now is a time where we have to be very careful about any signals of protectionism," Obama told a joint news conference after several hours of talks with Harper on his one-day visit.

He stressed the United States would meet its international trade obligations and told Harper he wanted to "grow trade not contract it."

"I'm quite confident that the United States will respect those obligations and continue to be a leader on the need for globalized trade," Harper said.

The two sides announced they would develop environmentally friendly technologies that would enable them to tap their vast fossil fuel resources with less pollution. The technology is not cost-effective now.

But Obama and Harper announced no steps toward introducing a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. Obama, who took office last month, campaigned on a pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Canada says it supports a North American-wide system.

In contrast to a passive approach from his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is committed to tackling global warming, but he said climate change initiatives must be balanced against economic considerations in the midst of a worldwide recession.   Continued...

<p>President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper walk down on the way to a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>