Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on a U.S. tour, but with a focus on the West Coast of the U.S. and the tech industry.
Yesterday, Trudeau spent time in San Francisco to pitch Canada as a solid choice for technology companies and startups.
These visits come at a crucial time as the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are in negotiations for changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
This agreement came under fire during the 2016 U.S. presidential election with now President Trump threatening to pull out if no changes are made.
A second point of interest to tech companies is the availability of foreign labor. Under the Trump administration, scrutiny on the H1-B work visa program has the industry concerned as they rely heavily on the program.
In Canada, Trudeau has actually loosened the historically strict Canadian work visa program to embrace more foreign labor, especially in new technology fields. The Canadian fast-track visa program has been called the “global skills strategy visa.”
While Trudeau came out of the meetings with some good news for Canada as he received commitments from Salesforce and AppDirect to expand offices and jobs in Canada, little is known about two other meetings, more important to eCommerce.
Toronto is one of the 20 cities/metro areas on the final HQ2 list for Amazon. Certainly bringing home 50,000 jobs would be a major coup for Trudeau and Canada.
While he maintains a publically good relationship with president Trump, the two couldn’t be further apart on many issues. Politically they are opposites.
Convincing Amazon to open up shop in Toronto with HQ2 would be a major win for Canada and a personal win over Trump. It may also reverse declining public opinion polls about his government among Canadians.
With that prize in mind, Trudeau met with Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.
Neither publicly discussed the prospects of HQ2 in Toronto after the meeting. However, should Toronto get the prize of HQ2, one can probably point to this meeting as a significant factor.
Another potentially more significant meeting for SMEs and small business eCommerce merchants took place with eBay CEO Devin Wenig.
Before the meeting, it was already known that Wenig would promote the company’s stance that Canada needs to raise the duty threshold for imported goods from the U.S.
This is one area where the eCommerce tech industry and the Trump administration actually agree needs fixing in NAFTA, and one that Canadian negotiators keep pushing back on.
Currently, the duty free limit for U.S. imports into Canada is $20. Both eBay and other online retailers, as well as the Trump administration want this limit raised to $800.
But retailers in Canada are worried. The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) claims in a study that raising the limit would lose 300,000 Canadian jobs.
This is considered a bit of political problem for Trudeau as he pitches for new jobs in the U.S. But at the same time has to consider giving ground on some proposed NAFTA changes from the U.S.
While eBay’s Wenig reiterated the long time stance by the marketplace, many observers believe a change in the duty-free threshold will not make it into a final agreement to change NAFTA.
And if it makes it all, it would be far less then the $800 sought by the Trump administration and on the U.S. eCommerce wish list. Even if Wenig was able to help nudge the limit up a bit with Trudeau, it would be a win for U.S. online retailers.
Was there progress made on adjusting the threshold? Neither side commented and a tweet by Wenig about the meeting was very bland.
— Devin Wenig (@devinwenig) February 9, 2018
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau continues his visit to the West Coast today, but other meetings will be of less importance to SMEs and eCommerce.
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