WASHINGTON - White House officials will be at the Canadian embassy on Thursday to discuss a joint Canada-U.S. initiative feared to be on life support in recent months — the Regulatory Co-operation Council, aimed at harmonizing trade regulations to ease cross-border trade between the world's two biggest trading partners.
Both Canadian and American stakeholders and business representatives, many of whom will be in attendance at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue, have been complaining for months about the slow pace of progress on behalf of American officials, and have questioned the U.S. commitment to the two-year-old initiative.
"The majority of the organizational work has been handled by the Canadians, now it's time to see if the U.S. government is ready to breathe new life into the initiative," Maryscott Greenwood, head of the Canadian American Business Council and a moderator at the event, said Wednesday.
"The cost of not making progress on RCC is unacceptable to the business community ... In this day and age, why would you test and certify products twice for one integrated the North American market?"
Two White House regulatory officials — Andrei Greenawalt and Dominic Mancini — will likely be pressed by stakeholders for reassurances that the Obama administration still considers the RCC a priority and fully backs the council's work.
The council's creation, along with the Beyond the Border initiatives, was announced with great fanfare in 2011 by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but White House turnover, among other issues, has hindered progress.
"We're looking for a commitment along the lines of fully satisfying and executing all the action plans as quickly as possible because the time frames have slipped a little bit," said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association.
"The tyranny of small differences adds up to many inefficiencies for both government and industry; it adds to our costs and makes us a lot less competitive. The root objective of all this was to improve integrated industries in Canada and the U.S. and thereby enhance our competitiveness. That's the key here."
Council officials are expected to assure business representatives on Thursday that they're taking on a bigger mandate in the weeks to come, initiating a "summer dialogue" on sectors that haven't yet been dealt with. That's following pressure from both the Canadian American Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other stakeholders, to take on a bigger load.
Energy efficiency is on the council's agenda this summer, says Warrington Ellacott, senior manager of government relations for Whirlpool Canada.
"We're discussing some challenges facing our sector and using the current regulatory disparity between the Natural Resources Ministry in Canada and the U.S. Energy Department as an example," he said.
"In the appliance context, both countries used to have very insulated manufacturing and marketplace initiatives but since NAFTA, the manufacturing has predominantly left Canada so that now we're a major importer of appliances. The game has changed, but the regulatory framework has not."
Ellacott added that RCC officials are "very interested in the disparities and they see this as an opportunity for change."
Greenwood added that in times of austerity, cutting regulatory red tape is even more important — a point she hopes to make on Thursday to U.S. officials.
"At a time when governments don't have enough funding, the efficiencies in Canada-U.S. collaboration can save tens of millions in government regulatory spending, while not sacrificing an iota of consumer safety or environmental protections."