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Canada dusts off old message for new anti-tariff charm offensive

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The prime minister’s inner circle is ramping up another lobbying push in Washington to terminate American tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Two senior government sources say that ministers with connections to American national security portfolios will be tasked with reaching out to specific U.S. officials to push Canada’s anti-tariff message.

The campaign is based on Canada’s long-standing position that the tariffs are both illegal and absurd.

Last June, the Trump administration invoked a rarely used national security provision — Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 — to impose 25 per cent tariffs on imported steel and 10 per cent tariffs on imported aluminum.

The tariffs are based on the argument that, in the event of a national emergency, the U.S. needs robust domestic steel and aluminum industries. Canada has openly attacked the tariffs, pointing out that Canada is not a threat to U.S. national security.

One source said the new lobbying campaign actually began when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Washington in December.

Early in the new year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan delivered a similar anti-tariff message over the phone to the new U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan​.

And Finance Minister Bill Morneau also made Canada’s case during a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in Washington yesterday.

Now, the lobbying push is seeking new targets. Officials at the Canadian embassy in Washington are drafting a list of influential Americans who may be open to Canada’s message.

Once that list is complete, individual ministers will be tasked with reaching out to those officials, by phone or in person, to press Canada’s case.

Both Freeland and Morneau will use the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a forum to meet with their American counterparts and push them to nix the tariffs.

They won’t see U.S. President Donald Trump there. Trump announced on Twitter today that he would be skipping the forum to focus on the current federal government shutdown and a swelling dispute with House Democrats over his demand for a border wall.

Paul Moen, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and an international trade lawyer, said Canada’s strategy makes sense — but it should also reach out to business and labour leaders and the new faces in Congress who took office in the November midterm elections.

“With the new Congress in place, that’s a new opportunity to build some new relationships, build on some old ones, but also to broaden the engagement with the business community, with the labour community,” he told CBC News.

But Mark Rowlinson, a spokesman for United Steelworkers Canada, said the window for charm offensives has long since closed and it’s time for Canada to draw “a line in the sand” by refusing to ratify the revamped North American trade deal until the tariffs are dropped.

“I’m skeptical​,” he said. “It’s clearly the case that Canada has never posed a threat to U.S. national security, and I don’t think anyone on either side of the border has ever really taken that seriously. Canada has engaged in a number of charm offensives … and so far, those efforts have yielded next to nothing.

“What they should be doing is saying, ‘We will not sign, we will not ratify the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, unless and until these tariffs are dropped.”

In fact, neither of the two senior government sources who spoke to CBC News is optimistic that Trump will abandon his enthusiasm for tariffs any time soon.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted a defence of his tariff policy by quoting an interview on Fox News with Mark Glyptis, a local president of the United Steelworkers union from West Virginia.

One of the sources said that Canada will be stepping away from any arguments that connect the tariffs to the updated North American free trade agreement.

Some American lawmakers and business leaders who oppose the tariffs have said publicly they should be dropped, since they were meant only to serve as leverage in the trade negotiations.

One of the sources told CBC that Canada doesn’t want to touch that argument because it’s too similar to the line Mexican officials are taking in their own push to end the American tariffs.

Canada does not want to be lumped in with Mexico, the source said, because Mexico might end up agreeing with American demands for export quotas on steel.

CBC News has reported that American trade officials want both Canada and Mexico to accept caps on how much steel they can import into the United States, based on a portion of what was imported in 2017.

“That’s crazy,” said the source, adding Canada will not entertain the idea of accepting quotas.

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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