Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday April 30, 2021
Cabinet’s ability to award Buy American exemptions ‘strenuously limited,’ Biden says
President Joe Biden set some Canadian pulses racing again Wednesday with more tough Buy American talk, telling Congress he has “strenuously limited” cabinet members from granting exemptions to the 88-year-old protectionist doctrine.
In the same breath, however, the speech marking Biden’s first 100 days as commander-in-chief offered a measure of comfort by suggesting Buy American would not offend the terms of trade deals like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products, made in America, to create American jobs. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it will be in this administration,” Biden declared.
The notion of keeping U.S. government spending on American soil, a philosophy that dates back to 1933, will be the “one principle” guiding the $2.2-trillion infrastructure package dubbed the American Jobs Plan, he added.
“I might note, parenthetically, that does not violate any trade agreement. It’s been the law since the ’30s,” Biden said through sustained applause in the House chamber, where COVID-19 allowed only a relative handful of lawmakers to attend.
“I’ve made it clear to all my cabinet people: their ability to give exemptions has been strenuously limited. It will be American products.”
Much of what Biden said on the subject, including mention of trade agreements and cabinet members, did not appear in the prepared version of his remarks distributed to reporters before the speech.
And it offered little solace or clarity for Canadian stakeholders still smarting from the punishing steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Biden’s stridently protectionist predecessor, Donald Trump.
“Those policies continue to concern us — ‘Made in America’ failed to embrace the integrated nature that we have in the steel business,” said Catherine Cobden, head of the Canadian Steel Producers Association.
“Protectionism between neighbours and allies hurts everyone. We’re really hopeful that that’s not the way this plays out.”
The picture is likely to become more clear by midsummer, when an internal review of the existing rules — including how domestic content is defined and whether information and communication technology should be covered — is due. (Canadian Press)