HALIFAX - New Brunswick's premier has added his voice to growing concerns about the spectre of U.S. protectionism, given his province currently exports more than 90 per cent of its goods south of the border.
During a question and answer session with a Halifax business audience on Tuesday Graham said no Canadian province was more dependent on the free flow of trade to the U.S. than New Brunswick.
Graham was in the Nova Scotia capital to sign an agreement aimed at reducing barriers to business, trade and skilled labour between the two provinces.
He said such regional co-operation enhanced competitiveness in the face of recession and added he saw that as the way forward for Canada and the U.S.
''We (Canada and U.S.) are one region and it's so important that we keep our trade routes open and so important that we work to find efficiencies for our businesses,'' said Graham.
However, he told the audience that he was encouraged by signals sent during last week's visit to Ottawa by President Barack Obama.
''He recognizes the importance that Canada has in building the new economy.''
Later the New Brunswick premier underscored what's at stake should protectionism take hold.
He pointed to the expansion of the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, which is Canada's largest, as an example of the province's heavy dependence on markets such as those in neighbouring New England.
''Six out of 10 cars in Boston operate on gasoline refined in New Brunswick,'' Graham said. ''We need to keep those borders open, we need to be able to access the U.S. market.''
The agreement with Nova Scotia includes such measures as improved, standardized and harmonized regulations, along with mutual recognition of professional and trade credentials.
Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald said removing obstacles to business and allowing the freer movement of labour made sense in challenging economic times.
''In times of economic uncertainty very often you see both business and government become more aggressive,'' said MacDonald. ''And in this case I believe we have become more aggressive and I think it's the silver lining in what's happening globally.''
The new agreement will have an almost immediate effect on the trucking industry which will see reduced red tape and the elimination of the need for trucks to use weigh scales in both provinces.
Graham pointed out that trucks now have to stop twice within a 50 kilometre stretch of highway between Salisbury, N.B., and Amherst, N.S.
''That increases the travel time and increases inefficiencies within the transportation companies,'' he said.