The head of the national association representing Canadian auto-parts manufacturers returned from a brief lobbying trip to Washington this week with elevated confidence that protectionist measures are sinking far down the American political agenda.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (AMPA), travelled to the U.S. capital Monday to join Ontario Premier Doug Ford and others in telling the Americans that protectionism would cause immense economic pain on both sides of the border.
While in Washington, the Ontario delegation met with U.S. officials, including Marisa Lago, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, and Daniel Watson, Assistant U.S.Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere.
Canadian industry leaders have been anxious about potential next moves by Washington after a trucker protest shut down the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., for six days in February. That blockade delayed the transport of billions of dollars worth of goods, and prompted some U.S. politicians to suggest that auto supply chains should be transitioned to the United States.
But Volpe told Automotive News Canada that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has significantly shifted the American focus and the “threat of war has made them all remember what it means to be allies.”
The weeks since the protestors were removed from the bridge have given all parties, including American law makers and industry partners, a chance to assess the situation and consider the lessons learned, he said.
“We’ve been trying to explain throughout the last six months why it didn’t make sense for the Americans to be protectionist in a world in which we’re competing against China,” said Volpe, who sits on the Ontario Premier’s Council on U.S. Trade and Industry Competitiveness which was formed last year to combat protectionism.
“That argument got a boost with all the NATO-related partnership discussions that have happened since Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Because the AMPA served as a representative plaintiff on the court order which forced the dismantlement of the bridge blockade, Volpe said he was well positioned to explain that, while law enforcement may have taken a while to act, the judicial system still works in Canada.
“It allowed me to speak from a first-person point of view about what were the terms of that injunction and what were the principles that were endorsed by the judge,” he said. “All of those things lend to the long-term viability of an open bridge.”
It was also helpful that Ford could explain that some of the emergency measures put in place to deal with the blockade have since been made permanent.
“We were able to articulate to people that this was a case study that we’ve learned from and it’s not something we don’t have control over,” said Volpe. “We understand how to designate critical infrastructure and how to protect it.”
But it is the changing international security situation that has really made U.S. authorities think twice about introducing measures that would put Canadian manufacturers at a disadvantage, he said.
A special tax credit proposed by President Joe Biden to push American consumers to buy electric vehicles made in the United States is currently “a very low priority,” said Volpe. And the threat of war “has helped to bring perspective where there was none for a few months.”
Adding to Volpe’s optimism is the announcement anticipated for Wednesday that Stellantis and LG Energy Solution have selected Windsor as the site of a new electric-vehicle battery plant which will mean billions of dollars of investment in Canada. That means, he said, “a lot of people have done yeoman’s work in in convincing the market that we’re more than a safe bet.”