Obama reassures Canada on open trade

Thu Feb 19, 2009 7:24pm EST
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By Ross Colvin and Jeff Mason

OTTAWA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday assured Canada, his country's biggest trading partner, that 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 to Ottawa.

"And as obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries," he said.

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 afterward.

Harper said he was willing to look at strengthening the environmental and labor provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something Obama has said he wants. But the Canadian leader said he did not support renegotiating the agreement, which has boosted trade between the two countries.

The two sides announced they would collaborate on environmentally friendly technologies that would help them develop an electricity grid fueled by clean, renewable energy and to tap their vast fossil fuel resources with less pollution. The technology is not cost-effective now.   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>