OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama will likely stress the need to keep economic stimulus funds flowing worldwide when they meet at the White House on Wednesday, a Canadian spokesman said.
“The most important thing is staying the course, making sure that that the different stimulus packages are implemented without obstruction and without delay,” Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas told reporters on Monday.
The meeting will take place a week before a G20 summit on global recession and recovery that Obama will host in Pittsburgh.
In Washington, Harper is expected to press Obama for a swift reciprocal deal that will enable Canadian goods and services to get around “buy American” provisions and enable U.S. companies to bid on Canadian provincial government contracts.
Soudas suggested the United States has accepted the basic concept of opening up government contracts at the U.S. state and Canadian provincial levels. “Both sides have appointed negotiators, so that speaks for itself,” he said.
Of greater importance may be the chance to solidify a relationship between the leaders, one a Conservative and the other a Democrat, of nations that have the world’s biggest trading relationship.
The two did not have a planned 15-minute bilateral meeting at the North American “three amigos” summit in Mexico last month, at Obama’s request, so that they could have a longer visit in Washington.
“It’s important for the leader of our closest friend and ally to come to Washington to meet with the U.S. president early on, reciprocating the Obama trip to Ottawa in February,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president at the Council of the Americas in Washington.
“They have met numerous times already since the inauguration, but the symbolism of a visit to Washington is also important in the scheme of things.”
The hour-long Oval Office chat will be a much scaled down meeting from Obama’s day-long trip to Ottawa in February, soon after his inauguration, which dominated Canadian headlines for days.
Chris Braddock, senior director for procurement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, said a formal agreement at the White House meeting on opening up government contracts was unlikely.
“There may be some progress, but I think the timing would be hard-pressed frankly,” he said.
The talks could touch on Canada’s plan to pull its troops out of Afghanistan in 2011, which is a sensitive topic in Washington, but Soudas said Ottawa would not be dissuaded to extend its deadline even if asked. “Our position is clear,” he said flatly.
On Thursday, Harper will head to Capitol Hill, meeting the Senate majority and minority leaders and the House speaker, to stress the need for both countries to open up their markets to each other. He will then give an evening speech in New York.
Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by Peter Galloway