U.S. consul general sings USMCA’s praises to Vancouver audience

Top American diplomat in B.C. says digital products, e-commerce to benefit from NAFTA replacement

U.S. consul general to B.C. and Yukon Katherine Dhanani | Rob Kruyt

The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) stands to “bring new advantages that should be particularly relevant to Cascadia,” according to the top American diplomat posted to Vancouver.

The comments from Katherine Dhanani, consul general of the U.S. in Vancouver, come 10 days after the announcement of a new trade agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the wake of tense, yearlong negotiations.

“Business needs to know the rules of the game are not going to change,” Dhanani said Wednesday (October 10) at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver.

The consul general highlighted the USMCA’s new measures focused on digital trade and e-commerce as of particular interest to those seeking tighter economic ties between Seattle and Vancouver.

“Right now we don’t have duties on digital trade. I can go and download books from Amazon here in Vancouver and not worry about [paying duties] and that’s now been codified,” she said.

Dhanani added that it was important to the U.S. that the new agreement raised the de minimis level — the dollar limit Canadians can purchase from foreign e-commerce sites without paying duty — from US$20 to US$150.

“And that could be really important to the kind of small businesses that we’re talking about, the SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) that need to get momentum and move forward and become mid-sized businesses,” she said.

The consul general of Canada in Seattle, Brandon Lee, who was sitting next to Dhanani during a panel focused on the history of cross-border trade, chimed in after her remarks.

“We believe in international trade. So this new USMCA largely resembles the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership] that we had been working on for years,” he said, referring to the 11-nation trade agreement that the U.S. pulled out of almost immediately after American President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

“For us, for the Canadian side, one of the things we really wanted to preserve was the dispute settlement. You just have to look at some of the tensions that have gone on the past few months and years. So that’s one thing we’re happy with.”

Challenge Seattle CEO Christine Gregoire, the former governor of Washington state, took to the stage following the consuls general and told the audience that players within the Cascadia region had been friends and collaborators for years.

“There is nothing in Ottawa or D.C. that can diminish our friendship, our collaboration, our willingness to work together. So I’m exceedingly happy with this new trade agreement because it’s important for both countries,” she said. 

“But I want you to know that Cascadia corridor is built on a whole lot more than one agreement.”