Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Mexican labour needed in oil patch, executives say

Globe and Mail 23 February 2007
North American CEO group recommends Canada import temporary workers


OTTAWA -- Canada and Mexico should accelerate efforts to import temporary Mexican energy workers to alleviate the skills shortage in Alberta and other provinces as oil sands development ramps up, top North American CEOs will recommend today.

They will also call for Canada, the United States and Mexico to start work on harmonizing regulations and standards in three sectors: financial services, transportation, and food and agriculture, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The 30 chief executive officers make up the North American Competitiveness Council, formed last year to advise political leaders on strengthening economic ties between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

They're tabling a 63-page report with 51 recommendations today as top politicians from all three countries meet in Ottawa to advance a continental security and prosperity partnership first struck in 2005. They include U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier.

The report will also call for contingency plans to quickly reopen North American borders after a terrorist attack or natural disaster occurs.

CEOs will argue that Mexico stands to benefit in the long run from training people to help develop its own energy sector.

Members of the council include Dominic D'Alessandro of Manulife Financial, Paul Desmarais Jr. of Power Corp. of Canada and Michael Sabia of BCE Inc.

The group counts seven other Canadian CEOs as members, as well as 10 American and 10 Mexican chief executives.

They're recommending both short-term goals for 2008 and longer-term targets for 2010.

Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, wouldn't discuss the contents of the report but lauded the fact that it managed to find a corporate consensus among three countries in less than one year.

"I would say that in a relatively small amount of time to pull together Mexican, American and Canadian positions on subjects as complex as . . . [these] is a definite sign of progress," Mr. d'Aquino said.

The 2005 security and prosperity deal was aimed at defending North America against terrorism or natural disasters and helping it better fend off economic threats from China and India. It committed Canada, the United States and Mexico to co-operate closely in three separate areas: security, economic and regulatory standards.

The report tackles three concerns for North American businesses: border crossings, energy supplies and the lack of harmony in regulations and standards between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The lion's share of recommendations -- 23 -- are aimed at smoothing border crossings, including upgrading bridges, tunnels and border approaches that help ferry goods between the three countries.

They call for a reduction in redundant inspections, given that, for instance, vehicles and associated parts cross the Canada-U.S. border roughly seven times in the process of auto manufacturing.

Another 18 recommendations lay out proposals for regulatory co-operation and 10 call for work on integrating North American energy supplies and distribution.

The three countries have pledged to hammer out a framework for regulatory harmonization this year. They're also working on developing compatible screening practices for incoming travellers and cargo, and more co-operation on intelligence.