July 08–After a week in the Volunteer State, Canadian Chamber of Commerce chief Perrin Beatty was convinced Tennesseans want more Canada: More trade, more tourism, more business partnerships.
Leading a Canadian delegation to Memphis and Nashville, Beatty said he found fertile ground for Canada’s pro-trade agenda and tepid support for scrapping the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The message I’ll give to our business community is, these are folks interested in doing business and we should be looking for ways to do more,” Beatty said Friday in Memphis.
The Canadians’ trip to Tennessee coincided with a pending effort by President Donald Trump to fulfill campaign promises to roll back free trade agreements including NAFTA.
While the Trump administration has given mixed signals on whether it will renegotiate or scrap NAFTA entirely, Beatty was reluctant to characterize a clear shift in policy.
“We just don’t know at this point what Washington is looking for,” Beatty said after a closed roundtable to discuss NAFTA’s impact with business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.
“The challenge in the short term is that business hates uncertainty,” Beatty said. “Today we don’t know what the rules are. We don’t know how it’s proposed that NAFTA’s going to be changed.”
“Some of the signs we’ve seen from Washington have been encouraging, some less so,” Beatty said.
The Canadians toured the FedEx world hub at Memphis, where pilots train on Canadian-made flight simulators, and Canadian National (CN) Railway’s intermodal hub. CN employs a slice of the area’s 1,500 workers at 20 Canadian-owned companies.
Beatty called FedEx’s use of simulators made in Quebec a “win-win. What FedEx has done is buy the best technology in the world, which happens to be Canadian in this instance.”
Phil Trenary, president and chief executive of the Memphis chamber, said roundtable participants supported improving NAFTA without erecting unnecessary barriers to free enterprise.
“…we do $1.4 billion in exports just out of this region to Canada, and we don’t want to do anything to harm that at all,” Trenary said.
Memphis business owners favor “a very free flow of people and talent” across borders, Trenary said. “Whether it be students or professionals or the things that really drive innovation, drive an economy, we should do everything we can to make that easier, not more difficult.”
Leigh Shockey, chief executive of Drexel Chemical and honorary Canadian consul general in Memphis, said trade with Canada is responsible for about 170,000 Tennessee jobs. Tennessee has a $3 billion trade surplus with Canada, the state’s largest trading partner.
Beatty said, “Every 30 seconds there’s another truck crosses the U.S.–Canada border. We do $1 million in business with each other every minute. This is the most successful relationship in the world and it’s between friends. That’s a pretty good basis for doing business.”
Beatty said whether the U.S. moves toward protectionism or not, Canada has cast its lot with free trade, but the world needs the U.S. to remain engaged, because “American success drives success for the rest of the world.”
“In Canada we’re very committed to internationalism and taking down barriers to trade. Whichever way the U.S. goes we’ll be looking to complete trade agreements.”
Beatty closed by quoting from Canadian export Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”
“I’m reminded of the words from her song, ‘We’re still together, still going strong.’ That’s what our goal is for this relationship.”
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