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Business owners get scoop on doing business in Canada at workshop Tuesday

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WATERTOWN - Offering the latest scoop on avoiding barriers to international trade, Rep. William L. Owens made an appearance Tuesday morning during a workshop about doing business in Canada at the Ramada Inn in Watertown.

Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, was among five speakers who offered expertise to an audience of about 25 business professionals on how to navigate cross-border issues in Canada at the workshop, hosted by the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Mr. Owens said Congress is considering legislation to ease trade barriers.

President Barack Obama announced important changes this month to improve the “Beyond the Border” initiative, a joint strategy launched by the U.S. and Canada in 2011, Mr. Owens said. The president announced that a single database portal will be launched that will enable customs data from businesses to be accessed by government agencies from the U.S. and Canada that are responsible for approving the international trade of products, as opposed to individual submissions that are now required.

“This is going to work both ways, and it’s extremely important that people take advantage of that and push both governments to get this portal up and running,” Mr. Owens said. “This is an area that, in my view, will greatly improve, help and facilitate trade between the United States and Canada. Any documents that are necessary for importation into the United States or Canada will be included.”

The majority of exported goods are now flowing from Canada into the U.S., while the U.S. has specialized mainly in selling services back to Canada, Mr. Owens said. He said he hopes that the Beyond the Border agreement will help reverse that trend by making trade regulations the same in both countries. He said a coalition of U.S. and Canadian lawmakers, including him, are focusing their attention on how to streamline rules.

International rules for the shipment of Campbell’s Soup, for example, now clash between the countries, Mr. Owens said.

“The rules related to Campbell’s Soup in Canada are dramatically different than the production of soup in the United States. And the goal of both, obviously, is to make sure you have a safe can of Campbell’s Soup. And there isn’t any reasons why those regulations could not be coordinated and made into a single set of regulations that would allow the movement of cans of soup from Toronto to cans of soup in Alabama, so that those would all be interchangeable on shelves in the United States.”

Opportunities to capitalize on the foreign exchange rate are now ripe for U.S. business owners interested in exporting products, Mr. Owens said. The Canadian dollar is now valued at about 90 cents compared with the U.S. dollar.

“Right now, it may be to your advantage to ship into Canada, because the exchange rate may benefit you,” he said. “And conversely, for Canadians to explore into the U.S. is also a benefit. There is always some play inside the currency exchange games that could create some opportunities for people as they move forward.”

Steven King, director of the Central New York International Business Alliance, said that often businesses across the organization’s 12-county service area — including Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties — aren’t aware of the wealth of opportunities to export products. Even so, the amount of goods exported from the region as a whole has climbed from $6.4 billion in 2009 to roughly $9.5 billion in 2013.

Mr. King used Hi-Lite Airfield Services, which had a handful of employees at Tuesday’s workshop, as an example of a company based in the north country that has taken advantage of international trade by partnering with the CNY IBA. With headquarters in Adams Center, the company has more than 100 employees and offers airfield maintenance services internationally. It has offices in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and international locations in Canada, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates.

“HiLite, for example, in the Middle East has a lot of connections and interests it has built up there,” he said. A company that makes ground radar machines in the Middle East “could be put in the same room with HiLite in a community forum, and they might find that interesting discussions could happen to share opinions and experiences from different regions.”

Other speakers were John Tracy, international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce; Jim Trubits, director of business development for Mohawk Global Trade Advisors, and Warren L. Creates, Canadian immigration attorney for Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, Ottawa.

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