Afghanistan, trade on table as Obama visits Canada

Trucks wait at an oil sands site in Alberta in 2007. Obama has environmental concerns about the sands.
President Obama takes his first foreign trip as head of state Thursday when he travels to Canada.

And though he enjoys an 81 percent approval rating north of the border, Obama is expected to tackle several explosive issues with America’s largest trading partner. • The war in Afghanistan: Canada has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, but Parliament has voted to pull them out by 2011. At the same time, Obama has approved a significant increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan, bringing the total there to 55,000. View a chart of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan » Obama said he will take up the issue of Canada’s troop withdrawal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the two meet in Ottawa. Watch what Obama will tackle in Canada » “My hope is that in conversations that I have with Prime Minister Harper, that he and I end up seeing the importance of a comprehensive strategy, and one that ultimately the people of Canada can support, as well as the people of the United States can support,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday. Watch more on the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan » • A “Buy American” clause in Washington’s economic stimulus package: Canadians worry about protectionism because of a provision in the package that requires the use of U.S.-produced iron, steel and other manufactured goods in public works projects paid for by the $787 billion package.

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“[There is] a lot of concern in Canada that [the provision] is going to cut Canadian firms out, especially in the steel area,” said Peter Mansbridge, the anchor of CBC’s “The National.” Administration officials altered the language in the final version of the stimulus bill to ensure the provision will not trump existing trade agreements. Canadian companies will therefore still have the chance to sell products used in stimulus-funded projects. Canadian government officials, however, perceive the provision as indicative of rising protectionist sentiment in the United States that could potentially spark a trade war and, in their opinion, deepen the global economic crisis. The Canadian government says more than 7 million American jobs directly depend on trade with Canada. • The environmental effect of Canadian oil: Obama has said he is concerned about the effect on the environment of the oil sands operation in Alberta, in western Canada. “What we know is that oil sands creates a big carbon footprint. So the dilemma that Canada faces, the United States faces, and China and the entire world faces is how do we obtain the energy that we need to grow our economies in a way that is not rapidly accelerating climate change,” Obama said in his CBC interview.

Experts have said that producing a barrel of oil from sand creates three times the emissions of a conventional barrel of oil. The oil sands have made Canada the top foreign supplier of crude oil to the United States. The administration of President George W. Bush viewed Canada’s reserves as one way to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil.