Greetings! I have the honor to be Canada's new consul general in Minneapolis. For the next four years, I will be responsible for growing two-way trade and investment ties, engaging with decisionmakers and citizens on issues of interest to both our countries, and helping Canadians living and traveling in the region.

Since our arrival in October 2012, my wife, Pheroza, and I have been struck by the friendliness and warm welcome we have received. The Twin Cities area is truly a wonderful urban center, full of people who are vibrant, energetic, active and caring. I am especially excited that the Minnesota International Center has chosen Canada as its focus country this year. (Perhaps this was the only thing that helped my team at the MIC's WorldQuest quiz night a while back.) I am lucky that I get to meet a lot of people in this job. In addition to Minnesota, my office covers the whole Upper Midwest, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. It is a privilege to be able to do so much traveling through this beautiful and dynamic region, and it takes me back to my days as an agricultural science officer working in western Canada.

Everywhere I go, I am impressed by the level of interest and affection that people have for Canada. They know it as a place to visit and vacation, to hunt and fish, to camp, or as somewhere to just plain hang out and while away a lazy summer's day. Others know Canada's incredible, culturally rich cities: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, among others.

Of course, the Canada-U.S. relationship is multifaceted and strong. It is the largest trading relationship between any two countries in the world, worth $2 billion a day, or more than $1 million a minute. Our economies are joined at the hip -- not just trading goods, but actually "making things together," through integrated production chains, in sectors from agri-food to high-tech manufacturing.

Canada is the largest export market for Minnesota and all the states of the Upper Midwest. Two-way trade supports 180,000 jobs in this state alone, and some 8 million across the United States. We're also America's largest foreign supplier of energy.

Some recent news on the Canada-U.S. relationship is that the last 12 months have seen a lot of progress on two action plans jointly launched last year by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The whole idea is to boost economic competitiveness by making it even easier for Canadian and American firms to do business across the border, while maintaining and enhancing our mutual security.

One of these initiatives, the Beyond the Border Action Plan, is focused on getting people and cargo cleared in advance and as early as possible, minimizing delays at the border. A recently launched cargo inspection program in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, will speed up shipping by rail through International Falls (the No. 1 rail crossing on the border). This saves everyone money. Beyond the Border is also focused on closer security cooperation, making it easier for law-enforcement personnel to work together across the border.

The second initiative is called the Regulatory Cooperation Council -- which, I admit, sounds a bit technical. But it matters, because making it easier to have new products approved for sale in both the Canadian and American markets opens up new opportunities for exporters and reduces their costs. It's a long-term project, but right now there are joint Canada-U.S. working groups looking at opportunities in 29 sectors, from agriculture to veterinary medicine.

Together, these initiatives represent the most significant boost to North American competitiveness since the signing of NAFTA. It's an example of how we're taking the world's greatest partnership and making it even better.

As Canada's consul general in Minneapolis, I am fortunate to work every day with American companies, organizations, state officials and other stakeholders whose goals are fundamentally the same as Canada's: to enhance our mutual security, prosperity and economic competitiveness.

To learn more about what we at the consulate do, why not come out to one of our public events? These cover a range of subjects important to both our countries, from trade to border management to environmental protection -- most recently, a forum on water quality in the shared Red River and Lake Winnipeg Basin watershed.

Because Canada is the the MIC's focus country, we'll be doing even more events than usual this coming winter. You can find out about these by signing up for our "Connect 2 Canada" service on our website at The relationship between Canada and the Upper Midwest is going great places in 2013! Please check us out, and I hope to see you around the Twin Cities, or elsewhere in Minnesota, over the next four years.

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Jamshed Merchant is the consul general of Canada in Minneapolis.