The Canadian-American Business Council (CABC) took over the Canadian embassy in Washington last July 4th. It had nothing to do with the War of 1812—in which both sides are claiming victory—but was a celebration of a quarter century of the CABC’s role “inside the Beltway” in defending and promoting the world’s largest trading partnership.
Photo: Robert Shafer
The CABC was founded in 1987 largely as a luncheon club for Canadian corporate ex-pats to chew on trading issues. But after 9/11, when U.S. companies found their Canadian supply chains had disappeared, and Canadian companies found a much stiffer border to their American customers, the CABC found new impetus.
Heavyweight corporate members were recruited and luncheon meetings replaced with high-powered board meetings and a direct advocacy role both in Washington and Ottawa. One of its most recent successes was convincing the U.S. Congress and White House to include Canada in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Canada was admitted as a member several weeks ago.
One of the great problems of being such close neighbors and trading partners is that the complexity of the relationship is often overlooked, says Peter Jost, one of the early general counsels and chair of the CABC in the 1990s. “Since we are each other’s largest trading partners, there is a tremendous capacity to take each other for granted,” Jost adds.
Some argue the need for the CABC has never been greater. “The U.S.-Canada economic relationship has suffered for far too long from benign neglect, and since 9/11 we’ve seen a thickening of the border and some erosion of our special, historic relationship,” says Kelly Johnston, vice-president of government affairs at Campbell Soup Company, a CABC member since 2004.
“Congress doesn’t want to talk to nice people,” says Gary Doer, the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., and co-chair of the CABC Advisory Board. “It wants to talk to people who are effective.”
The CABC board is represented by the likes of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Air Canada, Associated Equipment Distributors, Amgen, Arent Fox, American Gas Association, Bombardier, Borden Ladner Gervais, Campbell Soup Company, Canadian National Railway, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Dickstein Shapiro, ExxonMobil, Fasken Martineau, Ford Motor Company, International Dairy Food Association, J.C. Flowers & Co., Lockheed Martin, MTS Allstream, Ontario Media Development Corp., RBC Royal Bank, Research In Motion, Revolution Organics, Spectra Energy, Sutherland, TransCanada, UPS, United Technologies and VHB Engineering.
Its advisory board is co-chaired by Doer, and David Jacobson, U.S. Ambassador to Canada. It also includes former ambassadors to Canada and the U.S., as well as former New York Congressman John LaFalce, former Canadian Senator Jack Austin, and former Canadian Member of Parliament Barbara McDougall.
This membership clout, along with its unique perspective of seeing both sides of trade issues—from regulatory cooperation to protecting economic growth—is gaining the CABC access to top decision-makers in the U.S. and Canada.
CABC directors have met twice this year with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The first, in Washington in April, dealt with a wide range of bilateral issues from energy to the TPP. The second, in Chicago on May 20th, dealt with NATO and securities issues. CABC directors have also met recently with top State Department and Commerce Department officials to push the Canada-U.S. relationship.
“CABC helps shape policy debates in both Ottawa and Washington–and any number of states and provinces,” said Marvin Odem, upstream Americas director at Royal Dutch Shell PLC, in a speech to the CABC’s spring forum. “The CABC helps maintain the movement of more than $750 billion in goods and services – roughly the size of Turkey’s entire GDP–across the 49th parallel every year.”
Access to markets and free trade are ongoing priorities for the CABC. “Any protectionist measure is harmful to both countries,” the organization states. It helped lay the groundwork for the Canada/U.S. agreement on sub-national procurement in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That should help combat any future “Buy America” protectionist attempts by politicians.
Streamlining border movement is also a top concern. As many as 300,000 people cross the Canada-United States border each day, along with $1.5 billion in goods. “The efficiency of the Canada/U.S. border is critical to the well-being and livelihood of millions of Canadians and Americans,” the CABC states.
Although recognizing the importance of a secure border, the organization is advocating security measures that are reasonable, harmonized and do not hinder trade. In a recent survey, its members voted overwhelmingly in support of the Beyond the Border and Regulatory Cooperation Council initiatives announced by President Barack Obama and Harper last year.
Some lesser-known CABC projects, such as the annual Canadian America Business Achievement Awards, help keep the partnership between the two countries in the forefront. The 2011 winner was Michael Rapino, president and CEO, Live Nation Entertainment, Inc., the concert promoter.
Yet, the CABC does not limit itself to trade and commerce issues. It ran a 30-second commercial, “Inside the Beltway,” on the depth and complexity of the Canada-U.S. relationship, during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
“Our research showed that while there’s enormous goodwill towards Canada in the United States, there is very little understanding of the importance of the relationship,” said Maryscott Greenwood, who was executive director of the CABC at the time the ad aired. “The more people in D.C. understand the magnitude of the commercial trade, as well as volume of energy coming from Canada, the better their policies are from a Canada-U.S. perspective.”