A Green MLA is questioning whether P.E.I. has put all of its “export eggs in one U.S. basket.”
The issue of the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations hit the floor of P.E.I.’s legislature Tuesday, with Charlottetown-Parkdale MLA Hannah Bell saying an overreliance of exporting to the U.S. makes P.E.I.’s economy vulnerable in what she described as a “trade war.”
“Especially given the unpredictability of the current (U.S.) leadership,” said Bell. “What if next, Americans decide to put a tariff on potatoes and lobster? Both of which compete with our American counterparts.
“Does this government have a plan to deal with further escalations in this trade war?”
Last week saw the U.S. impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, with Canada’s federal government then responding with retaliatory tariffs on a number of U.S. items to take effect on July 1.
Bell said the provincial government has devoted “quite a bit of emphasis and public financing” towards encouraging Island companies to grow their exports.
However, she said federal government numbers show about 73.67 per cent of the province’s exports went to the U.S. last year.
Bell said the value of exports going to the U.S. from P.E.I. has risen from $804 million in 2014 to more than $1 billion in 2017.
During the same period, the value of exports going to other countries has fallen from $498 million to $365 million, she said.
“Our export destinations are getting smaller,” said Bell. “This government’s many export diversification policies are failing to actually diversify P.E.I.’s export markets.”
Economic Development Minister Chris Palmer acknowledged the U.S. is P.E.I.’s largest trading partner and described the NAFTA negotiations as “fluid.”
He said the province was continuing to work with its exporters.
“We stay engaged in the NAFTA discussions,” said Palmer. “We do have staff that are dedicated towards that, and they’re working with our exporters here to keep them up to date so we are able to adjust our tactics as the situation unfolds.”
Palmer also noted the province is involved in trade missions and delegations to identify opportunities in other export markets.
“But, it would be foolhardy for us to think that we should ignore the U.S., which is our largest trading partner, who have a lot of wealth and demand our wonderful products,” said Palmer. “We will watch that situation as it unfolds as it is very dynamic and we want to stay on top of that for sure.”