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Could copyright reform win Buy American battle?

Sewer pipes and MP3 players normally have little in common, but a Washington-based trade expert says linking the two provides Canada's best shot at tackling protectionist Buy American polices.

Canadian firms are getting shut out south of the border as they bid on the billions in infrastructure contracts being awarded across the country to inject some life into the struggling U.S. economy.

In extreme cases, Canadian-made pipes were ripped out of the ground this year in California simply because of so-called Buy American polices that are now common among governments at the state and municipal level. Some say the incidents are likely under-reported as Canadian firms fear further headaches in the United States if they complain too loudly.

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But Canada could solve the impasse immediately by addressing concerns that Canada is a haven for illegal piracy of copyrighted music, movies and other digital media, a Parliament Hill audience was told yesterday.

"You could solve Buy America tomorrow," said Scotty Greenwood, who is the executive-director of the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council. Ms. Greenwood was speaking not on behalf of the council, but as one of several trade experts invited to speak at a day-long panel on Parliament Hill organized by Liberal MP Scott Brison.

The job loss warnings by Canadian manufacturers shut out from the billions in American infrastructure projects have largely been met with a shrug in Washington - even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper raised the issue directly with U.S. President Barrack Obama.

Ms. Greenwood told the audience that copyright protection has moved to the top of the list in the Obama administration when it comes to relations with Canada. She said the issue is repeatedly raised with Canada by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson.

"If Canada would just do it tomorrow... Link it. Say: 'Okay. We hear you on copyright. We wanted to do it forever. We will do it tomorrow if you a deal on Buy American,' [Canadian ambassador to Washington]Gary Doer and David Jacobson would be shaking hands in this room tomorrow," she said.

In April, the United States added Canada to its blacklist of countries with lax laws preventing the piracy of intellectual property. The Conservative government proposed copyright reform legislation prior to the last election, but it was abandoned in the face of widespread opposition. Since then, the government has held extensive consultations in the hope of finding a new bill that could win the support of the minority Parliament.

However this is the last week of Parliament before it adjourns until late January and there are no indications that a new copyright bill is imminent.

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Darren Cunningham, a spokesman for Industry minister Tony Clement, said he doubts the Buy American issue could be solved so simply. He notes that state and municipal governments, which are the source of the tensions, are unlikely to share Washington's level of interest when it comes to copyright policy.

"That's one person's opinion," said Mr. Cunningham, in response to Ms. Greenwood's comments. "I don't think we're at a place tomorrow to solve 'Buy America' with copyright legislation."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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