Posted at 1:21 PM
Thank you. It is wonderful to be with friends and leaders here in my home city.
For more than 90 years, this Council has helped influence the dialogue on many issues of importance to our nation and to the world – from food security to human rights issues to, of course, business.
It is an honor to share the stage with Minister Fast, our partner in strengthening both our bilateral relationship and North American competitiveness more broadly.
And I would also like to share a warm welcome to all of our friends from Canada who are here today.
It has been another cold week in Chicago. All of us on the American side of the border recently learned a new phrase – “polar vortex.”
The meteorologists at our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – part of the Commerce Department – tracked this phenomenon. Our experts soon discovered that Canadians refer to the polar vortex by a much simpler term – “January.”
While things are frosty here at home, we enjoy a warm relationship between our nations, which is critically important.
Today, Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner – and vice versa. We have the biggest bilateral trade relationship in the world. Every minute, more than a million dollars in trade crosses our border.
Chicago and Detroit – where I was Wednesday – are the top two U.S. cities that export to Canada.
When I was in Detroit, I was reminded of just how integrated our economies have become. We don’t just trade with each other… we build things together. This includes our auto supply chains in which components often cross the border many times before a final product is ready to be sold.
In addition, investors pour hundreds of billions of dollars in both directions to build new facilities and to create new jobs. And literally millions of people in both countries rely on our trade and investment relationship for their livelihoods.
With that as a backdrop, I am thrilled to be here to spotlight the progress of the President’s and Prime Minister’s Beyond the Border initiative – a collaboration that can only exist between the strongest of friends.
As many of you know, Beyond the Border has taken what is called a “perimeter approach” to security which allows us to accelerate the flow of people, goods, and services between our countries.
The initiative is grounded in our cooperation on cross-border law enforcement, border security, cybersecurity, and other security issues.
My team is working on these issues with the White House and our new Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, a friend and colleague for years. Earlier this week, he and I celebrated his confirmation and discussed issues that fall under both of our departments.
But today, I want to focus on the commercial and economic aspect of Beyond the Border.
Undoubtedly, the U.S.-Canadian economic relationship has blossomed in recent decades. Today, it is time to move our bilateral partnership to a deeper level of collaboration and integration.
There are many opportunities for us to do just that. Already, the young Beyond the Border initiative has achieved concrete results to reduce friction in our two-way trade.
For example, we worked together to increase the dollar-limit on goods eligible for expedited customs clearance to $2,500. This translates to shipments being cleared quickly and reaching their destinations faster.
Also, we are recognizing security systems on each other’s planes. This eliminates the need to re-screen cargo and increases the capacity for more cross-border flights.
We also increased the enrollment in the NEXUS program by 50 percent in the past year. As you might know, NEXUS offers faster lanes at the borders and self-serve kiosks at airports.
Also, our trusted trader programs are becoming more aligned through efforts such as a joint application for highway carriers.
And, we just concluded a pilot in British Columbia that tested the idea of inspecting southbound trucks, drivers, and cargo before they reach the border. We want to turn these pilots into permanent programs that free up resources at the border.
Many of these ideas came from people like you in the private sector.
Overall, our goal in government is to give you more time to focus on efficiently doing business… rather than waiting in airport lines or seeing your products delayed by border traffic.
To build on this progress, we must eliminate more nontariff barriers and harmonize more of our trade and investment policies.
Divergent and redundant regulations create unnecessary costs for many businesses whose supply chains and finished products cross our borders. Some studies say that these barriers can add up to 10 percent to the final cost of a product.
The work of the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) – launched at the same time as Beyond the Border – is part of the solution. The Commerce Department takes a lead role in the RCC.
The RCC is working to align our regulatory standards, to sync up our product review and approval systems, and to coordinate how we manage imports from third countries. In addition, the RCC is looking to harmonize regulations in sectors ranging from agriculture to nanotechnology.
And the RCC is exploring ways that we can jointly support the environment, small businesses, and other areas of shared concern.
Looking forward, my team would love to hear more from YOU about where our two governments should focus with Beyond the Border:
Is it time to take a fresh look at our list of 30-plus Beyond the Border projects? Are we being fully responsive to what you need in industry? Where would you like us to focus over the next 12 to 24 months?
Working in business for 27 years, I believe that government must move with a sense of urgency, set deadlines, and achieve results. We want to work with our partners “at the speed of business.”
And we can’t stop there.
On a broader level, the competitiveness of our two countries is becoming more and more tied to the competitiveness of the entire North American region.
Canada, Mexico, and the United States can and should be working together more to grow our trilateral relationship.
Together, we have an immense opportunity to develop energy, to attract manufacturing investment, and to enhance our region’s overall leadership in the world.
With that in mind, Minister Fast, Secretary Guajardo of Mexico and I have been in the process of creating what we call a North American Work Plan.
I will give two examples of areas that I think are ripe for collaboration:
First, we plan to jointly promote travel and tourism within and to North America. Data is key in this area. We are planning to share travel statistics and market intelligence on tourism flows with each other. In addition, part of this idea involves promoting an idea called “Three Nation Vacation.”
Second, we will jointly promote entrepreneurship and innovation. This March, the Commerce Department plans to welcome Canadian and Mexican leaders from business, government, and universities to visit several cities in the Southern United States. We will spotlight public-private partnerships that are helping accelerate new technologies, attract foreign investment, and more. This is important, because we should be cross-pollinating powerful ideas that drive innovation and competitiveness throughout the continent.
From the Commerce Department’s perspective, we hope that this Work Plan will include many more areas: economic development, cluster mapping, greater alignment on trade policies and more.
My team stands ready to work with Minister Fast and Secretary Guajardo to finalize this Work Plan.
And make no mistake: We will need your help. Please push those of us in government toward the actions you think will set the stage for growth throughout the continent.
Feel free to reach out to my team – including Tom Wyler, my Senior Advisor for Trade and Investment. Tom is playing a lead role in helping our government prepare for the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico on February 19, which President Obama will attend.
And I am confident that we will have additional successes to tout by October, when Toronto hosts the North American Competitiveness and Innovation Conference.
We can’t stop there, either.
Canada, the United States, and Mexico are at a crucial and exciting moment with the Trans Pacific Partnership – the TPP. As you know, the Asia-Pacific is one of the most dynamic regions in the world.
12 countries are now in the late stages of negotiations on TPP, which will further integrate supply chains and increase opportunities for firms and workers throughout the region.
From the U.S. perspective, once negotiations are complete, this trade agreement must be approved by Congress. The first step in that process is passing Trade Promotion Authority, which was introduced in Congress last week by Republicans and Democrats.
Every President has had this authority going back several decades.
Essentially, this legislation allows Congress to assert its role in trade negotiations, guiding the overall objectives of U.S. negotiators and setting the rules by which Congress will consider trade agreements.
Once Trade Promotion Authority is approved, we are one step closer to expanding market access, ensuring a level playing field for exporters, and supporting more good-paying jobs in cities like Chicago.
I encourage all of the U.S. business leaders here today to make your voice heard on Trade Promotion Authority and the TPP.
Notably, this authority will also be needed for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the U.S-European Union trade agreement for which we launched talks last summer. I want to congratulate Minister Fast and Canada on recently completing negotiations on their own free trade agreement with the European Union.
In closing, it is clear that the commercial, economic, and person-to-person ties between our countries run very deep.
All of us can remember on 9/11 when we had to shut down U.S. airspace and divert more than 200 flights to Canada.
On a moment’s notice, Canadians opened their hearts and homes to about 30,000 stranded passengers, including many Americans. It has been called Operation Yellow Ribbon.
Minister Fast – I want you to know just how deeply the United States cherishes our unique friendship. Clearly, our countries share common values and a common vision of making life better for people on both sides of our border.
On behalf of the United States and as our nation’s Chief Commercial Advocate, I commit to you that my team will continue to do everything we can to strengthen all of the dimensions of our relationship.
In particular, I look forward to working with business leaders of both the United States and Canada as we find new ways to drive mutual prosperity and success for our businesses and their workers.
Thank you so much for being here for this important daylong event, and thank you for giving me the honor to speak to you. I look forward to Minister Fast’s remarks and to taking a few questions.