By Andrea MacDonald

A 9.6 square kilometre island in the Bay of Fundy may seem light-years away from the trade issues gripping the rest of the world. As a port of entry into the United States, however, Eastport, Me. feels the trickle-down effects of the larger shakeups.

“We know as we cross the St. Stephen-Calais border when Washington and Ottawa are fighting, because the border gets tight,” says Eastport city manager George (Bud) Finch, who’s in Halifax for the Atlantica 2007 conference.

Finch sees it as a matter of survival in a Darwinian new world order, where companies and individuals have to recognize emerging trade blocs even if they don’t participate. Finch crosses the border into Canada three or four times per week. This week’s Atlantica conference made him see how some people from smaller communities on the Maine-Canadian border see things differently than people living in big cities.

“In the global changing of the world – and I can say this because of where I live on the Bay of Fundy – do we really believe that Washington cares any more about northeastern New England than Ottawa does about the Atlantic provinces?”

Finch and more than 200 others listened to a sometimes tense debate on the Atlantica concept, an economic zone made up of the Atlantic Provinces, northeastern United States and eastern Quebec.

Scott Sinclair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives worried post-9/11 security would hamper Canadian ports relying on U.S. trade and that any benefits would be heavily concentrated in port regions.

The debate remained polite until the end, when Sinclair clashed with Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, over whether Atlantica has had enough public input.

Stephen Blank, director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona University, agreed with Sinclair that more public discussion is needed.

Cirtwill told moderator Hana Gartner he felt that the parties agreed on four points: that the environment is a critical part of Atlantica, that trade and transportation will be about more than just trucks, that growing trade is not necessarily a bad thing and that public input is critical. Sinclair disagreed.

At lunchtime, Premier Rodney MacDonald gave a keynote speech touting the Atlantic Gateway concept.

Calling Nova Scotia “the common-sense entry point for goods bound for North America”, he pointed out that cargo ships sailing from India and Asia through the Suez Canal are closer to Halifax than to any other North American port.

Nova Scotians need to do a better job of marketing that concept, however, he told reporters afterward.