According to newly released figures, Canada has overtaken the European Union as the top export market for U.S. goods. In 2010, Canada bought $249 billion of American products; the 27 nations of the EU purchased $240 billion.
That’s particularly impressive when you consider that the EU is home to some 500 million people and there are approximately 35 million Canadians. Add in the products we import from Canada and a total of $525 billion in U.S-Canada trade crossed the border last year, an average of $1.4 billion every single day, supporting literally millions of jobs across the North American continent.
To expand this trade, protect those jobs, and create new jobs we must act swiftly and smartly to maintain, improve, and expand a superior cross-border infrastructure. A critical artery in our existing infrastructure is the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario and carries nearly 30 percent of U.S.-Canada trade. The bridge is privately owned and collects tolls to recoup its costs and earn investors a reasonable profit.
Anticipating the future, the state of Michigan and the government of Canada have developed a proposal to construct a new toll bridge — the Detroit River International Crossing — two miles downstream from the Ambassador Bridge. Canada would contribute approximately $550 million to Michigan.
Last month, Governor Rick Snyder successfully negotiated an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration that would allow these funds to leverage federal matching funds.
Also anticipating the future, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge have secured the land, drawn up the plans, and are prepared to put up the private funds to build a twin span next to the current bridge.
It would support three lanes in each direction. Once the new bridge is completed, the current span would be temporarily closed, refurbished, and then reopened to handle high volume periods and emergencies. Federal transportation funds could be leveraged based on toll credits paid from 1992 going forward.
Both projects enjoy broad support from the Michigan and Ontario business communities and both plans would create thousands of badly needed, high-paying construction and other jobs in Detroit and its environs. A spirited debate is now underway over which bridge should be built. In my view, we must build one bridge, or the other, or both. Doing nothing is unacceptable.
We must also recognize that given the breadth of the nation’s infrastructure needs as well as the enormity of federal and state deficits and long-term debt, that private investment must be welcomed and included as a critical component of our infrastructure strategy.
President Barack Obama has embraced the U.S. Chamber’s longstanding goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years (and then doing it again!) in order to create good-paying American jobs. In recent months, the administration has taken steps to get the nation’s stalled trade agenda back in gear.
We applaud this, yet trade agreements alone aren’t enough. We must have the capacity to move rising volumes of goods as well as workers and tourists across a seamless and efficient global supply chain. The most critical links in that chain are those which bind together the largest, most lucrative bilateral commercial partnership in the world — U.S.-Canada trade.
It’s time to bridge the gap between our vision of expanded trade between our countries and the reality that we must have superior and sufficient facilities to move the people and move the goods.
Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.