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‘Buy American’ laws could hurt economy, Canadian diplomat says

Canadian Consul General to New York Phyllis Yaffe

Canadian Consul General to New York Phyllis Yaffe meets with Long Island executives June 21, 2017. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

“Buy American” restrictions on government purchases harm the economies of the United States and foreign countries, Canada’s top diplomat to New York State said Wednesday after state leaders announced preferences for U.S.-made structural steel and iron products.

Phyllis Yaffe, Canadian Consul General to New York, said the “Buy American” legislation agreed to by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and leaders of the Legislature was troubling but a vast improvement over Cuomo’s original proposal, made in January.

He had wanted to require all state entities to purchase domestic-made goods if the procurement was valued at more than $100,000. However, lawmakers balked after intense lobbying by Canadian representatives, including Yaffe, other countries and business groups.

The legislation, announced Tuesday in the state Capitol, requires the MTA, state Dormitory Authority, Thruway Authority and four other state agencies to use American-made structural iron and steel for all road and bridge projects, beginning with contracts signed after April 1, 2018.

“Canada clearly appreciates that this is a more restrictive focus” on buying preferences by New York State, Yaffe said yesterday after a private lunch held in Melville with 30 local executives and organized by the Long Island Association business group.

“But we will always argue the principle . . . that Canada and the United States should not inhibit trade between each other,” she said in an interview. “Our argument is very clear: It’s not good for you and it’s not good for us.”

A Cuomo spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The bill is expected to be adopted by the legislature this week and then go to Cuomo for his signature.

Yaffe was named consul general in July 2016 after working in television, including a stint as CEO of Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., the Toronto-based producer of the “CSI” TV series.

She emphasized yesterday the close business ties between her country and Long Island, noting some local companies have offices in Canada. She valued exports and imports between Canada and Long Island at about $1.5 billion last year.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that local companies sold $9.8 billion in goods to foreign buyers in 2015, the most recent available data; more than $564 million was to Canada.

Yaffe tried to downplay fears that President Donald Trump will succeed in dismantling the North American Free Trade Agreement. She noted NAFTA had been amended 11 times since going into effect on Jan. 1, 1994.

“Do not destroy what is working so well,” she warned.


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