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American Ambassador David Jacobson.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

U.S. ambassador David Jacobson says the most useful thing his country can do for Canada is not green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline but curing its ailing economy.

"The single most important thing … that the U.S. can do for Canada is get its economy back on track," Mr. Jacobson told an Ottawa conference on Canada-U.S. relations Monday.

The U.S. is Canada's biggest customer for exports and any improvement in American economic growth would boost sales for Canadian companies.

Last January, U.S. President Barack Obama temporarily blocked the Keystone pipeline, citing environmental concerns about the proposed route for carrying crude to Texas from Alberta.

The White House's decision prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce that Canada needed to try harder to shift trade from the United States and toward more rapidly-growing markets in the developing world.

This has since developed into a major plank of the Harper government's economic policy, one Mr. Harper expounded during his recent trip to India, where he predicted the U.S. faced a future of slow growth – one that meant Canada needed to look elsewhere for exports.

Mr. Jacobson said the U.S. doesn't begrudge the Canadian government trying to diversify trade away from the United States. He said Canada remains the Americans' largest trading partner and any strengthening of its economic relations would indirectly benefit the U.S. as well.