Mainers, Canadians meet to discuss east-west highway, build trade relationships

Posted April 23, 2012, at 6:09 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — When it comes to friends, few are more valuable to Maine than its neighbor to the north.

A two-day Cross-Border Economic Integration in the Northeast Conference, which started Monday at the University of Maine, is focused on the future of trade and commerce between Maine and the Canadian provinces. About 100 business and government representatives from both sides of the border are meeting to discuss where to take their relationship next.

One of the year’s hottest topics is the potential for an east-west highway, which would link New Brunswick to Quebec by way of a 220-mile toll highway through Maine. Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue is scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s session about the benefits of the proposed privately funded highway.

John Butera, senior economic adviser for Gov. Paul LePage, said the administration wholeheartedly backs the highway plan. Butera said the governor has said he believes a highway would bring dollars into Maine while helping the Atlantic Provinces and New England grow economically as a whole.

“We truly believe that there’s tremendous opportunity and promise between Canada and Maine,” Butera said Monday morning while delivering the opening keynote address.

The relationship between Canada and Maine runs deeper than geography, Butera argued, saying that the region “has been a site of human and cultural interactions for thousands of years.”

Canada is the leading trading partner of both the United States and Maine.

Among the statistics boasted at the conference:

• Fifty-five percent of Maine’s foreign-owned companies are Canadian.

• There are more than 37,000 jobs in the Pine Tree State that are dependent on trade with Canada.

• Canada is the United States’ largest foreign supplier of oil, nuclear fuel, natural gas and hydroelectricity.

• More than $1.4 billion worth of goods crosses the U.S.-Canada border each day, which is more traffic than any other border on the planet.

• Each day, an average of 300,000 people cross the border.

• Maine sells more goods to Canada than any other nation — sending about one-third of all its exports to the Canadian provinces in 2011.

“It’s very clear that trade opportunities currently exist between Maine and Canada,” Butera said, “and we believe there are a lot of future opportunities.”

Butera said LePage has visited the premiers of both New Brunswick and Quebec in an effort to forge lasting communication between Maine and the provinces.

“Proactive efforts are under way to build relationships and advance economic integration,” he said.

Information on the conference is available at http://www.umaine.edu/canam/crossborderconference.

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