By Peter Moreira
As appeared on page B1

HALIFAX — The Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce is so serious about building a trade area with the Northeast U.S. that it is about to name an American businessman as its chairman.

Jonathan Daniels, who is now the president and chief executive officer of Eastern Maine Development Corp., will take over as the chairman of the Eastern Canadian business lobby at the group’s annual meeting June 14-16. And his appointment highlights the chamber’s determination to develop Atlantica, which would harmonize the economies and open borders among the four Atlantic provinces, eastern Quebec and five northern New England states.

“It sends a message that the business community on both sides of the border are onside with this,” said Charles Cirtwill, the acting president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, a Halifax-based think tank that has also been supporting the Atlantica concept.

The chamber five years ago decided to make Atlantica one of its priorities, thinking that the region of 6 million people in nine jurisdictions suffered from a patchwork of regulation and a tangle of trade barriers, and more co-ordination was needed to construct a larger, more productive market.

The Chamber of Commerce invited Mr. Daniels to join its executive at that time to bring an American perspective to the organization, and he has gradually been working his way up toward the chair.

The advantage, say key people within the organization, is that Mr. Daniels can help to co-ordinate lobby efforts in both countries – a fundamental component in the goal to harmonize policy.

“My role is making sure that as much as possible everything is available to develop the issues on both sides of the border,” Mr. Daniels said in a phone interview from Maine. “What we are not trying to do is erase the border. What we are trying to do is ease the delivery of goods, services and energy across the border.”

Sometimes, Canadian businesses need help from their American counterparts. For example, a key plank in the Atlantica platform is the drive for harmonized transport regulations. Within Maine – the jurisdiction with the largest population – trucks can carry up to 100,000 pounds (45,454 kg) on the main highway south of Augusta. But north of Augusta, the weight limit is 80,000 pounds, which means trucks with goods from Atlantic Canada must travel without full loads or travel on side roads. Mr. Daniels said the Maine business community has been lobbying the state government for years to change the regulation.

The task of getting governments onside has proven a tough one. Asked for evidence of success so far, Atlantica proponents point to the network of business organizations they’ve developed throughout their region. What they cannot claim is that their efforts have led to any meaningful legislation or deregulation in creating a more cohesive region.

“Yes, there’s been a lot of talk, but talk leads to action,” said Steven Dempsey, the chamber’s outgoing chairman, adding the chamber wants the debate to intensify so governments see the virtue of Atlantica and then act together. “We know it’s a long process.”

Mr. Daniels is formerly the managing director of the Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission in Louisiana, and will soon leave Maine to become the executive director of the port of Oswego, near Syracuse, N.Y. He said his background in ports will help with one of the key Atlantic Canadian goals, the creation of the Atlantic Gateway, a multi-modal transport strategy that includes construction of a new container terminal at the Strait of Canso. He said his other priority as chairman will be to work on ways to channel more capital into small businesses, especially in rural areas. He said the problem persists on both sides of the border, and he would like both New England and Atlantic Canadian business communities to work together on solving it.

Atlantica, what is it?

A trading zone comprising Eastern Canada and Northern New England.

Canadian members: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and eastern Quebec.

U.S. members: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and northern New York state

Population: About 6 million

Border crossings: 23

Largest jurisdiction: Maine