Canada Braces for Biden’s Executive Orders Enacting Stringent New ‘Buy American’ Regimen

January 25, 2021 Updated: January 25, 2021

WASHINGTON—Less than a week after the economic gut punch of Keystone XL, Canada is bracing for more bad news from the White House.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that would establish a new Buy American regime to ensure U.S. workers and companies reap the benefits of government spending.

“Federal law requires government agencies to give preferences to American firms; however, these preferences have not always been implemented consistently or effectively,” the White House said in a release detailing the measures.

“It is long overdue that the U.S. government utilizes the full force of current domestic preferences to support America’s workers and businesses, strengthening our economy, workers, and communities across the country.”

The plan promises to increase the amount of U.S. content a project would need to qualify as being “made in America,” and to apply more stringent standards to the sort of hard-won exceptions Canada secured to similar rules imposed in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

It would establish a “central review of agency waivers of Buy American requirements,” fulfilling Biden’s campaign promise to “crack down on unnecessary waivers.”

Such exceptions to the rules would be made available for public scrutiny on a website established by the General Services Administration.

The order would also establish a new Made-in-America office in the White House to oversee the new rules and ensure they are properly enforced.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the replacement trade deal for NAFTA negotiated under Donald Trump, does not include specific government procurement provisions between the U.S. and Canada.

The deal envisioned relying instead on the terms of the World Trade Organization’s general procurement agreement, to which both Canada and the U.S. are signatories.

Biden “remains committed to working with partners and allies to modernize international trade rules—including those related to government procurement,” the White House says.

Today’s executive order comes less than a week after Biden “disappointed” the Canadian government and enraged Alberta Premier Jason Kenney by rescinding a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion.

Critics of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau say that decision, which effectively killed the US$8-billion plan to export Canadian oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast, may be just the beginning.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Canada missed a golden opportunity to more closely align itself with the U.S. by taking a harder line on Huawei, the Chinese tech giant that American lawmakers see as an ever-present threat to national security.

Canada is the only member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence bloc that has not banned the company’s equipment from its next-generation 5G mobile telecom network.

That could be making it more difficult for the U.S. to treat Canada as a trusted ally, O’Toole said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“In the United States, you never have a conversation about trade without a conversation on security,” he said.

“We have to have a much smarter approach. I think there’s more opportunity with a Biden administration. But there needs to be a far more serious and strategic approach from the government.”

With files from Stephanie Levitz in Ottawa