By Bill Power

Supporters of the Atlantica concept had reason to hoist their banner higher Thursday as Ottawa announced $558,000 in support for a newly established council to promote the proposed northeast cross-border trade zone.

Jonathan Daniels, who is to be named chairman of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, announced the formation of the Atlantica Council at the opening of a three-day conference in Halifax.

“The council will devise a strategy for development and explore new opportunities for cross-border trade,” said Mr. Daniels, who heads the Eastern Maine Development Corp., based in Bangor.

Mr. Daniels, the first American appointed to head the Atlantic chamber, will soon become executive director of the Port of Oswego, near Syracuse, N.Y.

He described the new Atlantica Council as a truly “international co-operative effort” with members of its board of directors coming from the entire northeast region.

Business leaders from Atlantic Canada, eastern Quebec and New England are in Halifax for three days of talks on the Atlantica proposal to advance opportunities for trade within the region and internationally.

Federal financial support of the new Atlantica Council comes through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

“This investment recognizes the importance of regional co-operation,” said ACOA minister Peter MacKay.

Premier Rodney MacDonald opened the conference with a promise to make the Atlantic Gateway scheme in Nova Scotia a priority for his government.

“Its development will benefit not only this region, but the rest of Canada and the eastern United States,” he said of the project.

Mr. MacDonald also pointed out that cargo ships sailing from India and Asia through the Suez Canal are closer to Halifax than any other North American port.

Although the most recent federal budget includes a $2.1-billion commitment to develop Atlantic Gateway infrastructure over the next seven years, the premier said Nova Scotia has capacity now for more cargo ships.

“While West Coast ports struggle to find capacity, Halifax could easily double its container traffic right now,” Mr. MacDonald said.

Atlantica promoters said the council is set to add major momentum to the cross-border trade proposal.

“All the dialogue on the Atlantica concept is helpful, because transportation assets such as the Port of Halifax in this region have the potential to deliver more benefits to the entire Atlantic region,” said Michele Peveril of the Port of Halifax.

Coun. Bill Farren of Saint John, N.B., said the Atlantica Council will “broaden the scope of the project” significantly to involve more than business leaders.

“It’s the next logical step to keep this at the forefront and bring in environment and labour groups and politicians,” he said.

The council will have six members to start, including Halifax publisher Neville Gilfoy; Tim Curry, president of Atlantica Centre for Energy, Saint John; Janine Bisaillon-Cury, president of the Maine International Trade Center in Portland; Regis Duffy, founder of Diagnostic Chemicals in Charlottetown; John Murphy, vice-president, J. D. Irving Ltd. in Saint John; and Memorial University president Axel Meisen.