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Harper eyes Asia for Canadian energy

TransCanada pipeline delay drives a wedge between U.S. and Canada as APEC summit wraps up in Hawaii


November 14, 2011
by The Canadian Press

HONOLULU—Prime Minister Stephen Harper says a series of U.S. decisions impacting Canadian interests reflect Canada’s need to secure access to Asian markets for its energy products.

While Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama looked chummy, it was clear the delay of a major Canadian pipeline project has forced Harper’s hand.

According to official accounts of the leaders’ meeting, Harper expressed his disappointment with the U.S. State Department’s decision to delay the $7-billion project until at least 2013.

The 2,700-kilometre pipeline would bring crude from new oilsands expansions in northern Alberta to Texas for upgrading.

But Obama says he supports the decision to delay TransCanada’s Keystone XL project “to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood.”

Harper, however, remains adamant the project will eventually be approved.

He says the pipeline delay—among other recent U.S. decisions that have raised questions in Canada about the strength of our relations south of the border—were merely products of the “political season” and don’t represent a fundamental shift in U.S. policy.

But he also says it was time for Canada to start looking East.

“That will be an important priority of this government going forward,” he says, noting he raised the issue of energy exports with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Canada further signaled its desire for access to Asian markets by reversing a decision that membership in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) wasn’t in Canadian interests.

A key sticking point had been the suggestion that Canada needs to considering shelving supply management policies for the dairy, egg and poultry industries – sectors the Conservatives staunchly support.

But Harper says Canada now needs to be at the TPP table, and says a review of the partnership’s membership criteria indicated Canada could easily meet the conditions.

“For the question of specific sectors, whenever we enter negotiations as we’ve done in the past with other countries, as we’re doing right now with Europe, we always say that all matters are on the table,” he says. “But of course, Canada will seek to defend and promote our specific interests in every single sector of the economy.”

And while the pipeline is only the latest decision by U.S. legislators and regulators unfavourable to Canada, we’ve still got Obama’s “Buy American” revival to consider, which could cost Canadian businesses billions in lost sales to the U.S.

Harper was nonetheless cautious in his response to the series of American moves.

“Remember, not all these things are final decisions,” he says. “I think Canadians would be wrong to interpret any of these decisions as against Canada.”