Whether or not this is a good deal (of which more in a second), note that the agreement was reached without linking the issue (government procurement contracts) to any other separate issue (like copyright, for example). Which is what one would expect, given the complex nature of the Canada-U.S. relationship.
Is the deal itself a good one? Without a lot of digging (and I really do have to get back to writing my chapter on the Mexican implementation of the WIPO Internet treaties), it’s impossible to say. The fact that the press release, joint statement and the backgrounder on “Buy American” and the tentative agreement contain no numbers whatsoever (or useful links to where these numbers might be living) is, shall we say, less than helpful. They don’t even mention the size of the U.S. stimulus package. Not good.
There are a bunch of questions I hope the media and opposition politicians ask the government, for which the answers aren't immediately clear. (Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if Parliament were in session? Then the issue could be raised in Question Period and discussed in more depth in committee hearings. Ah, the good old days.)
Specifically, what were the government’s assumptions regarding:
- How much of the remaining in stimulus funds would find its way to Canadian contractors (and, for that matter, how much is remaining). Obviously most won’t go to Canadians, so the direct benefit of this agreement is likely to be much lower than this headline number.
- How much of the U.S. states’ government-procurement market would go to Canadian firms and workers?
- How much of the $22-billion provincial and municipal government-procurement market would go to U.S. companies. (It would’ve been nice to mention the size of this market in the Backgrounder.)
- The importance of government procurement for provincial and economic development.
- How having more competitors for provincial and municipal contracts would affect the costs faced by provincial and municipal governments (presuming that more competition leads to lower prices).
- Net employment, domestic economic activity and tax revenue, since the opening of this market could cut both ways (some effects will reduce employment, others increase it, everything else being equal).