President Obama made a U.S.-led renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor and environmental standards a central promise of his campaign. But asked today if he plans to start negotiations during his Thursday visit to Canada, Mr. Obama suggested that economic duress may postpone the NAFTA plans.
"There are a lot of sensitivities right now because of the huge decline in world trade," Mr. Obama told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "As I've said before, NAFTA, the basic framework of the agreement has environmental and labor protections as side agreements -- my argument has always been that we might as well incorporate them into the full agreement so that they're fully enforceable."
He quickly stressed the importance of the trade relationship between the United States and her peaceful neighbor to the north.
"Canada is one of our most important trading partners. We rely on them heavily, there's $1.5 billion worth of trade going back and forth every day between the two countries and that it is not in anybody's interest to see that trade diminish," he said.
The president was also questioned about the 'Buy America' provision of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act which requires stimulus funds to be spent on U.S. goods and services.
"How concerned should [Canadians] be?" he was asked.
"I don't think they should be too concerned," Obama said. "You know, I think that if you look at history, one of the most important things during a worldwide recession of the sort that we're seeing now is that each country does not resort to 'beggar thy neighbor' policies, protectionist policies, they can end up further contracting world trade."
"My expectation," he continued, "is that where you have strong U.S. competitors who can sell products and services, that a lot of governors and mayors are going to want to try to find U.S. equipment or services, but that we are going to abide by our World Trade Organization and NAFTA obligations just as we always have."
The interview highlights some of the issues which the president is sure to be tested on during his first foreign trip Thursday to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.