The CEO Poll: Fair trade

Business leaders weigh in on Canada-U.S. relations.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Little actual work may have been accomplished during U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent jaunt north to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but in a web poll conducted by COMPAS Inc., Canadian CEOs outlined the most important issues for the two leaders to tackle.

The 119 respondents were most concerned about trade, and identified the No. 1 priority as joint border management to ensure efficient flow of goods and services. Fighting trade protectionism in Canada and the U.S. was not far behind.

“Free trade has worked for the past 20 years,” wrote one respondent. “Protectionism, or even the hint of it, could set back the clock to a point that would take years to unwind.”

Rounding out the Top 3 priorities was ensuring that stimulus measures in Canada and the U.S. are mutually reinforcing. Establishing a North American market for greenhouse-gas emissions was the least important issue, with 32% of respondents rating it as high priority. Developing a joint strategy for clean energy ranked slightly higher, with 52% support.

But at least one CEO felt more strongly about the environment. “I would rather see us be a world leader than a follower, especially on issues like climate change,” the respondent wrote.

Judging from the other panelists’ comments, however, protectionism is still very much top of mind. “Protectionism is not going to disappear, regardless of who is running the White House,” wrote one CEO. “We had so many unpleasant experiences during George Bush, such as the softwood lumber dispute, and we will have so many with the current administration, as well. However, the issue is how the Canadian government is going to protect Canadian interests in a most diplomatic and effective manner.”

Another CEO had a more balanced view. “As each country stimulates its own economy, this will result in strengtheningother countries,” he wrote. “We seem to forget that our countries became strong when protectionism was in place.”