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Great Lakes Economic Forum 2017 features US Ambassador to Canada

On April 25 and 26, 2017, the Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) convened the third annual Great Lakes Economic Forum in Detroit. The forum was attended by representatives of federal, state, and provincial governments, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, businesses, and trade associations from the US and Canada. The purpose of the Forum was to discuss the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence economy and to share ideas and insights on how to enhance cross-border collaboration. Previous conferences were convened in Chicago (2015) and Toronto (2016).

Bruce Heyman, US Ambassador to Canada, offered his perspectives on the US-Canada trade relationship under the Trump Administration. Mr. Heyman criticized President Trump for asserting minor trade grievances against Canada in public rather than working to resolve the grievances through collaboration and discussion. Mr. Heyman suggested that the Trump Administration should work more constructively with Canada, especially on public-private infrastructure funding, defense activities in the Arctic, cyber defense, federal maternal leave, and funding for Great Lakes restoration. Mr. Heyman, who was appointed by President Obama, has offered to stay on as U.S. Ambassador to Canada until Mr. Trump nominates a replacement.

Keynote presentations also were offered by Hon. Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development; Mary Taylor, Lt. Governor of Ohio and Chair of the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers Economic Task Force; Hon. Scott Brison, Member of the Canadian Parliament and President of Canada’s Treasury Board; and Hon. Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Growth. These presenters and other panelists uniformly emphasized the importance of the bilateral US-Canada trade relationship and expressed the need to avoid border taxes, tariffs, and other trade barriers that would reduce trade and cause the loss of jobs in the US and Canada. Several panelists also supported strategic renegotiation of NAFTA, open and secure borders, and regulatory reform to streamline the movement of goods and people across the border.

Other conference presentations focused on key issues that affect the regional economy. An array of panelists noted the importance of improved collaboration on research and development, “big data,” integrated infrastructure, and innovation. In addition, presenters announced announced the release of two reports commissioned by CGLR:

  • Connected, Adaptive and Resilient: A Multimodal Transportation Strategy for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Region. This report presents a multimodal transportation vision and strategy for the region, discusses the importance of the transportation system to cross-border trade, and identifies challenges that the current system presents. The report offers three high-level strategies for improving the transportation system:
    • Derive more productivity from existing infrastructure
    • Enable more flexibility, options, and modal choice
    • Embrace and incentivize technology and innovation.
  • Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region Tourism Trends and Statistics: Opportunities for Growth. This report finds that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region drives only 15% of tourism-related revenues and 19% of tourism-related GDP in North America, even though North America is the fastest growing geographical region in the tourism industry and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region offers a significant market and “punches above its weight” in visitors and jobs. The report encourages greater collaboration and the development of a travel and tourism vision and strategy to drive growth in the tourism sector.

Only one panel at the conference addressed environmental policy or sustainability, and it was limited to the impact of climate change on the US-Canada trade relationship. Panelists suggested that the biggest risk that climate change presents to the Great Lakes region is the risk of “business as usual” because the region’s physical climate risk is perceived to be relatively limited. Panelists recommended cross-border collaboration on green infrastructure, smart development, and the transition to low-carbon transportation options, and noted that the region’s skilled workforce, concentration of world-class research institutions, R&D capacity, and relatively low physical climate risk offer the region a competitive advantage in developing climate policy and technology.

During the open discussion, several attendees noted the relative absence of presentations focused on environmental and sustainability issues, asserting that water quality, the natural environment, community relationships, and sustainability are critical to the future of the Great Lakes region. Attendees encouraged conference organizers to include a broader discussion of sustainability and natural resource issues in future conferences, emphasizing that this discussion is necessary because “quality of life” likely will be a significant driver of future economic growth.

CGLR was launched in 2014 to enhance regional collaboration, provide a forum for regional organizations to highlight their work in the region, and inform federal, state, and provincial decisionmakers about the region’s long-term economic, social, and environmental goals and objectives. At present CGLR seems to be supported primarily by Canadian organizations, but it seeks to present a binational perspective and promote shared interests and solutions to the region’s challenges. More information about CGLR, and copies of the reports that CGLR released at the Forum, are available at