TORONTO - Trudeau-Trump. It is a meeting that had to take place, sooner or later; better now.
There are three main objectives: (1) “clear the air” between the two leaderships, (2) set the tone going forward, and (3) reset the goals – specifically with Europe, and CETA – on the International Trade and Global Affairs side of the equation.
On the first of these, no less a personality than former Prime Minister Bran Mulroney stresses the need for warm personal relationships between the leaders of Canada and the USA. In his view, the ability to “pick up the phone and say ‘look…some things should operate differently…”, for example, can go a long way to building mutually beneficial projects and towards solving emerging problems.
He cites the Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA as two accomplishments completely dependant on his relationship with the then President of the USA.
Jean Chretien installed hi nephew as Ambassador to Washington as a clear message to the White House and to the State Department that the Prime Minister’s Office was there via his nephew. Or the golf course, where he and President Clinton would spend time together.
Philosophical and political differences can be resolved. If there is a will. On the “substantive” side, Trudeau’s first priority will be to determine if Canada is indeed on Trump’s “hit list”; and, if it is, what we need to do to get off.
Initial signals suggest that “familiarizing” Trump’s team with the special Canada-USA relationship is fundamental. So, we have seen the barrage of statistical data highlighting our cross-border exchanges as evidence of our inter-dependence. This is especially true in the case of 35 States who count Canadian provinces as their most important trading partner.
The temptation to shower the Trump Team (TT) with a blizzard of data to illustrate “what good boys we are” may, however, not necessarily prove so productive.
They already know that the one resource upon which they may rely, and which we have in abundance – crude oil – is currently accessible almost exclusively through the USA. In fact, Canada exports 86.5% of the crude it extracts.
Pipelines for delivery to downstream markets are difficult to get through the regulatory process and to build. And we have just said we’ll cause them to be built. TT for their part have already also said that the Obama obstacles to such pipelines will no longer form part of the Trump plan.
Forget “irritants” like softwood lumber. It forms barely 2% of the two-way trade relationship; besides Us companies already own the majority stake of the business in British Columbia, where 50% of the lumber industry is resident.
On the Trans Pacific Partnership, that deal appears to be dead. In any case, Trudeau’s predecessor, the Harper government, had already ceded to US negotiators the authority to conduct and finalize agreements for Canada.
Is it any surprise that one of the first statements by Trudeau was then that Canada would be prepared to open up discussions on the NAFTA? What else do we have to offer? Access to Europe through the CETA, an Agreement that has yet to be ratified?
From their perspective, TT will probably want to explore, not necessarily openly, the types of messages that Trudeau can deliver to Germany and the European Union later in the week. How Trudeau emerges from this meeting will be scrutinized by diplomats in Europe with the intensity matching only the interest in the outcome of an overtime in a final championship game.
Our Prime Minister can come out of this week as the star player. But, like all “star players”, Canada has its own career – interests – to consider. Canadians of all stripes will want their Prime Minister to be “on his game”.