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Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River in central Labrador is the site of the proposed Lower Churchill Hydro Project. Former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said the U.S. should be looking to Canada for as much energy supply as possible.GREG LOCKE/Reuters

The United States needs to buy as much energy as possible from Canada so it can reduce its dependency on other countries that "don't like us," former American ambassador David Wilkins said Monday.

"I believe we need to do everything we can as a country to promote and facilitate the movement of Canadian energy to the U.S., whether it be a pipeline or hydroelectricity or whatever the form of the energy is," he said.

Mr. Wilkins spoke in Fredericton at a conference aimed at growing business and trade links between Canada's eastern provinces and the southeastern U.S.

"We need to get as much energy from Canada as we can and less from countries that don't like us."

The comment drew subdued laughter from a crowd of business and government leaders.

The Atlantic provinces and Quebec are all looking to the United States as an export market for a growing supply of energy including natural gas and hydroelectric power.

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are vigorously pursuing development of the 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. The provinces have made a joint request to Ottawa for a $375-million loan guarantee to help advance the project.

Quebec is opposed to that application, saying it would amount to an unfair subsidy if approved.

The two-day conference is the fourth annual gathering of the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said his province exports about $500 million in goods each year to the southern U.S., and the conference is an opportunity to forge new deals and tend to existing relationships.

"Some of the best-known companies in Nova Scotia have head offices that are in the southern United States," Mr. Dexter said, citing Michelin as one example.

Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz said his province does about $500 million in business annually with the entire U.S., most of which is with the New England states.

"But our fastest growing area is now the southeast," Mr. Ghiz said.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said the export figures show that the effort by the annual conference to boost trade between the member provinces and states is working.

He said the member states - which include Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee - exported more than $25 billion in goods and services to the member provinces last year alone.

Mr. Deal said New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba exported $16.5 billion in goods and services in return.