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Canada’s premiers want the federal government to seek an exemption from the United States’ Buy American measures.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said trade was a big topic Wednesday on the first day of the annual premiers’ conference.

“We will be calling on our federal government to provide a stronger leadership role ... in asking for an exemption with respect to the Buy American policy that is damaging many of our industries here in Canada,” Moe said at a news conference in Saskatoon.

The Buy American measures require 65 per cent local content on public transportation projects in the U.S. and that assembly be done south of the border.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the recent announcement by Bombardier of layoffs at its Thunder Bay, Ont., plant are a direct result.

“This Buy American policy down in the United States is absolutely killing us right now,” Ford said at the conference.

“We need the federal government to continue to negotiate with the U.S. government.”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Montreal-based Bombardier is an important company for both provinces.

“They had an important contract in the U.S. that is ending and they have (a) rough time getting more contracts in the United States because of the Buy America Act,” Legault said.

“That is why we all decided together that we need more leadership from the prime minister of Canada to negotiate an exemption.”

Several premiers said they made progress on internal trade issues.

“The progress has been glacial over the last number of years. I think that glacier is starting to melt,” said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

He said internal trade barriers result in the equivalent of a seven per cent tariff on goods crossing provincial boundaries.

And that is costing the national economy about $50 billion to $130 billion a year, added Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Kenney announced that his province is going to eliminate nearly half of its exceptions to the 2017 Canadian Free Trade Agreement, and review the remaining ones.

“We aren’t going to wait to negotiate and haggle over details. We’re doing this cold turkey, unilaterally, to show leadership, to show momentum and to encourage our fellow provinces and territories to do the same.”

Kenney also said he has encouraged other provinces outside Western Canada to join the trade-friendly New West Partnership Agreement.

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