High-ranking Quebec officials visited Louisville this week to foster more commerce between the Canadian province and Kentucky at a time that trade has fallen into some disfavor.
President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement, which regulates commerce between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, saying at one point that it was “the worst deal ever” and that the agreement would be “tweaked.”
But the visit of the Québécois to Kentucky and Louisville also occurred at a providential time, only a day after Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reinforced the countries’ strong economic and cultural ties.
Trump said, “America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbor like Canada,” while Trudeau added that, “No other neighbors in the entire world are as fundamentally linked as we are.”
Canada and Quebec play a particularly significant role for Louisville and Kentucky.
The commonwealth ships nearly $7.3 billion worth of goods and services to America’s northern neighbor annually. That’s more than the state exports to its three next biggest export recipients — United Kingdom, Mexico and China — combined, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Exports to Canada also account for more than a quarter of all of the goods and services Kentucky transports out of its borders. About a third of Kentucky’s trade with Canada occurs in Quebec.
Aircraft engines and parts account for about 31 percent of Kentucky’s exports to Canada. Motor vehicles and parts follow, with more than 14 percent.
According to the Canadian government, 112,600 Kentucky jobs depend on trade with Canada.
The Louisville metro area in 2015 exported $8 billion worth of goods, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and Canadian officials. Quebec is Canada’s second-largest province by population, with 8.5 million inhabitants. Nearly one out of every four Canadians lives in the primarily French-speaking province in northeastern Canada.
While trade, especially NAFTA, has received some negative press, especially since the election of Donald Trump as president, the Quebec officials who visited Louisville this week said that the vibrant trade relationship between Canada and the U.S. would continue as it has for hundreds of years.
Jean-Claude Lauzon, the Quebec delegate general, told Insider that a lot of talk these days deals with what goes on in Washington, D.C., but a lot of the action takes place at the state, city and business levels.
Nonetheless, he said, business people follow the news and are influenced by the some of the anti-trade rhetoric. At the end of November, shortly after Trump’s election, Lauzon visited 11 Quebec cities and met with 500 CEOs, many of whom asked whether in light of Trump’s rhetoric they should continue to do business in the United States. Lauzon, who lives in New York, told them that the day after the election, the Empire State Building was still standing, and Americans were going about their business as usual.
Lauzon said a lot of his work involved calming Canadian executives and telling them that trade between the U.S. and Canada was unlikely to get more difficult.
He said he has told Canadian government officials the same thing: “Please tell our constituents that (America is) still the best partner that we have.”
Lauzon visited Kentucky on a similar mission last spring. This year, the Quebec government bolstered its contingent by also dispatching Lise Thériault, the province’s deputy premier, or lieutenant governor.
Thériault told Insider that the elements that make trade between the countries so easy — proximity, shared history, language, culture — will remain regardless of political leadership and will continue to entice businesses to deal with one another across the longest border between two countries.
Thériault, who is in charge of economic development in Quebec — and whom Lauzon called a “bureaucracy buster” for her efforts to streamline Quebec business’ regulatory paperwork — said Louisville has done a fantastic job in the last decade to reinvigorate commerce and culture and can serve as an example for some Canadian cities. A dynamic relationship between Quebec and Kentucky can help each side learn from the other and emulate best practices, she said.
Lauzon last year was the first delegate general of Quebec to visit Louisville in 15 years, and he said Thériault’s visit this year — the first of such a high-ranking Quebec official — reflects the importance that the Québécois place on their relationship with Kentucky.
The Quebec officials during their stay in Kentucky this week discussed trade and educational exchange opportunities with officials in Lexington, Louisville and with Gov. Matt Bevin.
In a video he released, Bevin said Kentucky and Quebec share a “special relationship” because of their history and commerce.
“We want to see this continue to grow,” he said.
The governor also encouraged Kentuckians to travel to Quebec and asked that Canadians visit Kentucky.
Whatever the political landscape, Lauzon said, the dynamics of commerce will continue to foster a robust trading relationship between the U.S. and Canada.
About 29,000 trucks cross the border between the countries every day, he said.
“That’s creating wealth in the U.S. and it’s creating wealth in Canada,” he said.