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Harper urged to be more aggressive in selling Canada’s aerospace industry abroad

Former cabinet minister David Emerson, who headed an aerospace and space review, holds a news conference to discuss the findings of his report Nov. 29, 2012 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper is being urged to more aggressively promote Canada's aerospace industry abroad, by loosening restrictions on exports of sensitive technology to countries such as China and using his position as prime minister to press foreign leaders to buy Canadian-made products.

A new report on Canada's support for its aerospace and space industries is calling on Ottawa to be more assertive in pressing foreign leaders to buy Canadian.

"Presidents, prime ministers and senior officials around the world help open doors for their nations' aerospace firms by highlighting those firms' strengths and successes," the review headed by former federal cabinet minister David Emerson says.

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"Canada, almost culturally, has been reticent to engage in aggressive 'diplomacy' of this kind … in many countries, state-to-state engagement is a very important part of successful aerospace business transactions," the report said.

It includes a picture of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff shaking hands with Chinese president Hu Jintao after selling $1.4-billion of commercial jets to China in April 2011.

The tone of these recommendations echoes the debate in Ottawa right now over how aggressive the Harper government should be in demanding reciprocal and favourable treatment for Canadian companies in foreign nations that have state-owned enterprises seeking to buy big energy companies in Canada.

Beyond the Horizon: Canada's Interests and Future in Aerospace, and Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space are the two volumes of the Emerson-led review released in Ottawa Thursday. It makes 17 recommendations for supporting the country's aerospace sector and eight for its space industry.

Canada has the fifth large aerospace industry in theworld as measured by the value of its annual production.

But rapidly emerging economies such as China areincreasingly using the power of the state to promote and build their aerospace industry.

Mr. Emerson said these changes create both challenges andopportunities for Canada.

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The report also calls for a loosening of export controls on sensitive technologies – restrictions that are designed to guard against the leakage of intellectual property that might upset the United States if it fell into hostile foreign hands – or might threaten Canada's national security.

"The evidence suggests, however, that Canada's interpretation and application of these controls may be unduly sweeping and rigid, even going further, in some instances, than is typical in Washington," the review says.

"This stringency complicates the ability of the aerospace and space industries to sell their products abroad," it says.

"Meanwhile, companies from countries with more balanced export control regimes, including North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, are able to make sales in China, Russia and elsewhere – sales that might otherwise have been made by Canadian companies."

"The result is lost business for Canada with no material enhancement of security."

The Emerson report also called for Canada to be moreassertive in extracting commitments from foreign suppliers selling togovernment. It said Ottawa must obtain more stringent pledges that foreign aerospace suppliers will help develop Canadian partners companies that assistin the contracts.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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