Doing business in the U.S.: Build your relationships

By Yves Faguy May 1, 20181 May 2018

Doing business in the U.S.: Build your relationships

“Relationships do matter. But remember that presidents and Congresses come and go.”

That was the message from James Blanchard, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, at the morning plenary at the CCCA National Conference, where panelists shared their thoughts on the evolving U.S. -Canada relationship.

The discussion took place only hours after the Trump administration announced its decision to postpone imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, as the three trade partners are in the thick of renegotiating a new NAFTA deal.  Blanchard, now a partner at DLA Piper ventured a guess that President Donald Trump “will not issue a termination” of the current trade deal. “His advisors will advise against it.”

Ray Lahood, a senior policy advisor at DLA Piper and former US Department of Transportation Secretary put it more bluntly. “No one knows what Trump will do, and he doesn’t either.”

But the speakers were quick to remind the audience that power in the U.S. is quite diffuse, and therefore “there are constraints on the president and cabinet by Congress,” says Blanchard.  “It’s always been a complicated maze to figure out how to get things done or have decisions made.” Lahood echoed the sentiment: “Just because Trump wants something doesn’t make it so.”

So what does it all mean for groups trying to get the ear of decision-makers? “You just have to have a really good government relations operation.”

According to Roxanna Benoit, vice-president of public affairs and communications at Enbridge, the energy company does business in 41 states.

With the 2018 midterm season upon us, those states will hold races for 30 governors, 28 senators and 199 House representatives.

“It emphasizes how crucial it is to have the relationships in Congress and in the state legislatures.  Those people are closer to the community where we work in; they have a better understanding of the issues that we’re facing.”

Lahood remarked that it is also worth considering that there is a lot of inexperience on the Trump team, pointing to the remarkable turnover in the Trump administration. The president recently replaced his secretary of State, his National Security Advisor. “Obviously Trump knows how to play the media,” he said. “But does not have as strong a team as all of you have; a team that you have built over a long period of time. He doesn’t have the relationships. His team doesn’t have the relationships that you have. You’re not in that bad a position. Continue your relationships.”

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