FREDERICTON – Barack Obama’s inauguration today in Washington will occur a long way from Canada’s East Coast, but decisions made by the new American president in the coming weeks, months and years will likely have a significant impact on the region – from cross-border trade to the future of a second nuclear reactor for New Brunswick.

Take, for example, Obama’s musings about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

When he mused about reopening NAFTA during the presidential primaries, it was immediately cast by some political and business players as a potential crisis. After all, Canada has seen its exports to the U.S. multiply by almost seven times since the first free-trade agreement took effect in 1988.

New Brunswick’s economy in particular is extremely dependent on trade that flows across the U.S.-Canada border.

Those fears were eased somewhat by a leaked diplomatic memo, which suggested the former senator’s economic team had reassured Canadian officials that they would hold to the status quo. But what will happen now that he is in power?

David Plante, of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters group, says there is no fear among his members of an Obama presidency.

Plante says increased protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. is likely just that – nothing more than political “posturing” aimed to quell concern about the economic deterioration south of the border.

“This is more an issue of the economic times than it is of a particular administration’s bent,” he says.

Plante contends American trade frustrations are the result of jobs leaving the States for Mexico and China – not Canada.

While he predicts some changes in trade policy, he says they will likely consist of mere tinkering.

“The U.S. and Canada have a historic trading relationship – the largest in the world. Neither country can afford to have that jeopardized,” Plante says.

“Renegotiating NAFTA might make good news copy, but I think there are more pressing concerns for both countries’ leaders.”

Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think-tank, says renegotiating NAFTA would be “very bad” for all of Canada.

Crowley says re-jigging NAFTA, like many of Obama’s initial ideas, have turned out to be far more difficult than first thought. Another example: closing the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail on NAFTA,” Crowley concluded.

But there is also the question of how an Obama-led America might have an impact energy projects in the region, notably a proposed second reactor at the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station, located west of Saint John.

Obama’s nominee for energy secretary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, recently promised that he will aggressively pursue policies aimed at achieving greater U.S. energy independence by developing clean energy sources.

Fortunately for New Brunswick, Chu views nuclear power as a critical part of America’s energy mix.

That could bode well as the province mulls the benefits of building the second reactor, which the Shawn Graham government says will be used for exporting power to the U.S.

Elizabeth Beale, head of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, a think-tank, says Obama’s position on energy – coupled with terrific U.S. demand – could benefit local projects that are viewed as green or renewable.

She points to the second nuclear reactor at Lepreau, as well as to hydro projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is also looking to pump power to the States.

According to Beale, all signs indicate a closer energy affiliation between the regions, rather than a retreat.

Still, there are serious question marks, she says. Will Obama have the political courage to close coal-fired power plants that spew dirty emissions but provide much-needed employment?

“It’s very difficult to get rid of those in a recession,” she says.

“It would be facile to say, ‘They need our products, therefore we should be good.’ It’s much more complicated than that.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently said environmental concerns and the need for clean, secure energy will be top priorities when Obama makes his first foreign visit to Canada as president. A date for his Canadian visit has not yet been set.