- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PROTECTIONIST ALARM

The former U.S. ambassador to Canada warned President Obama to avoid policies that could spark trade wars with U.S. neighbors, like the “buy American” provision that almost slipped into the massive stimulus bill.

“The ‘buy American’ slogan that was written into the federal stimulus bill caused concern in Canada because of the implied protectionist tone of that slogan,” David Wilkins told an audience Monday at Clemson University in his native South Carolina.

The House bill included a provision that required firms receiving stimulus money to buy American products such as iron, steel and manufactured goods. However, the Senate weakened that language in the final version the $787 billion spending package, acknowledging U.S. obligations to avoid protectionist trade policies under international treaties.

Nevertheless, the congressional wrangling spooked several U.S. allies, especially in Canada, the No. 1 U.S. trading partner. Canadians were also alarmed when Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate, talked of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Most recently, Mexico imposed tariffs on dozens of American products in retaliation for Congress prohibiting Mexican trucks from U.S. highways. NAFTA guaranteed such access to Mexican truckers.

Mr. Wilkins, a strong supporter of former President George W. Bush and former Republican lawmaker in South Carolina, warned that domestic political moves, like the effort to restrict stimulus money to U.S. goods, can cause international damage.

“What sounds good in the United States may hurt us in Canada,” he said, according to an account published in the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail newspaper.

The United States does about $1.5 billion a day in trade with Canada, which is also the largest U.S. supplier of foreign oil.

Mr. Wilkins, ambassador in Ottawa from June 2005 until January 2009, praised Mr. Obama for choosing Canada as his first official visit as president.

“Canadians want to feel appreciated by the U.S., as their No. 1 trading partner,” he said. “I recommend that the president tamp down his protectionist policies in regard to Canada and Mexico. We need these two allies for many reasons.”

DON’T FORGET AFRICA

The president of the U.S.-African Chamber of Commerce called on the world’s wealthiest nations to remember the damage the global economic crisis is doing to Africa, as they prepare to convene the G-20 summit in London on Thursday.

Martin Mohammed, in an open letter released Tuesday, called on President Obama “to speak directly to these rich countries about the global trade opportunity, the open market, fair play for emerging markets and the prospect of future partnerships” at the summit in London.

Mr. Mohammed noted that Africa was “moving in a positive direction until this financial crisis combined with limited trade opportunities” hit the continent “with such an impact as to create long-term economic difficulties.” He predicted that Africa will suffer a 50 percent economic decline because of the global crisis.

ASSIGNMENT KABUL

A veteran U.S. diplomat, who served as ambassador to Egypt and the Philippines, is off to Afghanistan as the new deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Frank Ricciardone had been on a leave of absence from the State Department as a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). He was ambassador in Cairo from 2005 to 2008 and in Manila from 2002 to 2005.

USIP President Richard H. Solomon called Mr. Ricciardone an “ambassador for the institute.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison

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