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border deal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes remarks at the opening of the new Burlington Performing Arts Centre in downtown Burlington, Ont., on Dec. 2, 2011.SHERYL NADLER/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper is stressing the need for Canada's energy sector to look beyond the U.S. market even as he prepares to sign a long-delayed new border deal with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday in Washington.

The Beyond the Border initiative is expected to launch deeper integration between the two countries in order to speed up the flow of people and goods. It will also lead to more harmonization of regulations between the two countries, a move Canadian manufacturers predict will save billions in business costs.

But the deal is also expected to stir concern about the potential loss of sovereignty, as Canada will be required to harmonize many safety rules and share far more information with the United States about who and what is allowed into Canada. There are also deep concerns about privacy rights, as the two countries currently have different rules when it comes to the protection of personal information.

The public show of co-operation Wednesday between Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama comes on the heels of recent tension over the U.S. President's decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline project, which would bring oil-sands crude from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast for processing.

The U.S. announcement –- which was widely seen as a political move by the President to delay a controversial decision until after the 2012 elections – clearly frustrated the Harper cabinet.

Speaking Friday in Burlington, Ont., Mr. Harper stressed the importance of an open market with the United States.

"We are seeking ways of ensuring security in North America while at the same time making sure that we continue strong Canadian access to the American market," Mr. Harper said. But the Prime Minister had a different message when asked about plans for a pipeline to Canada's Pacific Coast.

"Diversifying our markets for those products is not just essential to our economic prosperity but to our economic security," he said. "It is not in our country's interest that we are a captive supplier of the United States of energy products, especially when we see some of the politics that are going on south of the border."

NDP MP Brian Masse says he's concerned that any deal to fast-track some people across the border could actually make it slower for regular crossers.

"It could mean iris scans or fingerprinting or other types of border measures that actually could slow the border down for other people," he said. "As well, what are the consequences of providing the U.S. this information?"

The Wednesday meeting comes two days before a key meeting of the heads of European Union states, meaning Europe's ongoing debt woes will also undoubtedly be on the agenda. There is also expected to be discussion of Canada's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-supported trade proposal that Ottawa only began publicly expressing interest in last month.

Canada's supply-management system of quotas and high tariffs in support of dairy and poultry farmers has long been seen as incompatible with the trade deal. As a result, critics accuse the government of planning a move away from supply management, but the government insists it is not.

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