Afghanistan, energy, trade and the economy were on the agenda during the “brief but productive” meeting between the prime minister and the president, CTV News reports. On the economy, cautious optimism was the order of the day for both leaders: President Obama noted that the two agreed that while there are some “signs of stability”, we’re “not out of the woods yet.” Harper agreed, calling the recovery “fragile.” As for the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, the PM came out in favour of the so-called “surge”—the increase in troop strength that Obama has proposed—but was firm that Canada’s military focus will end in 2011.
But forget that 42 minute photo-op in the Oval Office—as far as the Globe and Mail is concerned, any real business to be done during the Prime Minister’s whirlwind American trip will happen behind closed doors with legislators, where Stephen Harper is expected to mount an aggressive campaign against the protectionist provisions known as Buy American. In what is described as “an unusual series of meetings,” the Globe reports that Canada has put an offer on the table that would allow American companies to bid for provincial and municipal contracts—in exchange for a bye on Buy American. To succeed, Harper needs more than Obama on side—he has to gain the “political blessing” of senior Democrats in Congress, including Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to Jayson Meyers, who heads up the Association of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, today’s visit comes at a “crucial” moment in Canada/US trade relations. “It’s clear that the White House is very, very sensitive to what the Congress is saying,” he says—particularly given the ongoing fracas over the Obama health care proposals. “I don’t think we want our Buy American concerns to threaten to become a divisive issue among the Democratic members of Congress.”