Donald Leblanc was just in his second day of his new job as head of Quebec’s trade office in Atlanta this past December when he received a call from Didier Rousseliere, director of global partnerships at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Could he drop in for a visit at the Quebec Government Office in the 191 Building downtown even on such short notice? Mr. Rousseliere asked. By the time Mr. Rousseliere left, Mr. Leblanc had been indoctrinated concerning the bridges that already have been established between the Southeast and Canada.
He also received an invitation to join Clemson’s Canada Center, which is focused on strengthening the business and educational ties binding the two countries.
Meanwhile, Mr. Leblanc, who is attending the 11th Annual Southeastern United States — Canadian Provinces (SEUS-CP) Alliance Conference in Mobile, Ala., is getting another steady dose of info about the Southeast’s close ties to Canada.
Conference organizers have underscored the importance of two-way trade between Canada and the SEUS states including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
In 2017, that two-way trade was more than $50 billion with Southeastern exports including transportation equipment, machinery, computer and electronic products and chemicals. At the same time, Canadian imports pouring into the Southeast include chemicals, transportation equipment, machinery, plastics and rubber products.
But if Mr. Leblanc flipped on a television to CNN Sunday, he might have been somewhat alarmed to see Chrystia Freeman, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, defending her prime minister’s accusations that U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Canadian goods were “insulting and unacceptable.”
“So what you are saying to us and to all of your NATO allies is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash in reference to the administration’s reasoning for the necessity of the tariffs. “And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends — and there are so many — seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you?”
Nor did the foreign minister stop there. She even cited former Republican President Ronald Reagan’s comments when visiting Canada in the 1980s that “we are more than friends and neighbors and allies. We are kin, who together have built the most productive relationship between any two countries in the world.”
“…that is how Canadians feel,” she added for good measure. “And so this is a really sad time for us. We are hurt, and we are insulted.”
Enough of the television news shows, Mr. Leblanc might have concluded. Yet even at a welcoming dinner that night at a restaurant atop one of Mobile’s tallest buildings, there was no escaping these concerns.
His own consul general from Atlanta, Nadia Theodore, addressed the dinner in a similar vein as her foreign minister. “For many years, two -year trade between the regions has been substantial, and a driver of economic growth on communities large and small,” she said, according to al.com, the online news service of the Alabama Media Group.
“The SEUS-CP relationship is a textbook example of how international trade can be mutually beneficial by creating jobs, generating opportunities and expanding prosperity.”
As if obliging a theatrical cue, a thundering lightning storm emphasized her remarks.
“Canada and the United States make vehicles together to the benefit of our consumers and workers alike,” she added, according to the online reporting. “For example Alabama exports $2 billon in automobiles and over $62 million in engines and turbines to Canada. Ottowan auto parts account for the largest share of goods traded between Canada and the southern United States.”
“Canada’s exports of aluminum serve companies right here in the Southeast, such as Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota, Boeing, New Flyer and Magna,” she added. “All of whom, I am sad to say could be adversely affected by the recently imposed tariffs on your friend, partner and ally.”
Mr. Leblanc couldn’t help but reflect that the tenor of these remarks would be carried over on an even higher plain at the G7 meeting this coming weekend June 8-9 when senior officials from the U.S, Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Italy will be meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, to be hosted by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Even in Mobile, Quebec’s interests in the current trade debate would be on the top of his mind because of the agreement between Airbus SE and Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. to become partners on the C Series aircraft program together with the possibility that some of the C Series aircraft could be made at the Airbus facility in Mobile, pending regulatory approval.
Mrs. Theodore’s hope was that given the extent of business ties on the ground that increased awareness of their importance might “trickle up” to the U.S. negotiators.
No matter how the negotiations go, the Quebec Government Office in Atlanta is not apt to be detoured from its current plans under Mr. Leblanc.
He told Global Atlanta that Quebec’s government has managed to get its spending under control and balance its books. Even though it still has substantial debt per person, it is in a position to strengthen its presence in the U.S., he said, and is expanding the Atlanta staff to build its relationships in the clean tech and life science sectors while maintaining its strong, already established ties in the industrial products, automotive and aerospace sectors.
Also high on his list of projected goals is to celebrate the Quebec’s 40th anniversary in Atlanta since its office opened in 1978 once the current office’s renovations are completed.
To learn more about Quebec’s presence in Atlanta and the Southeast, click here.