Just weeks after COVID-19 caseloads permitted a return to regular two-way traffic across the U.S.-Canada border, another kind of travel is resuming this week: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Washington for the first trilateral summit with the United States and Mexico since 2016.
For the Canadian delegation, the overriding issue at Thursday’s face-to-face meeting will likely be U.S. President Joe Biden’s green energy initiatives, which have created a quandary for Ottawa.
While Trudeau’s Liberal Party-led coalition generally shares Biden’s commitment to fighting climate change, Canada’s economy has been hurt by specific measures such as Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried billions of dollars of crude oil from western Canada to Texas refineries.
“One cannot ignore the context of what Prime Minister Trudeau is walking into, despite the initial enthusiasm in late 2020 when (President Donald) Trump lost,” said Jeffrey Collins, an assistant professor of political science at University of Prince Edward Island. “Canada-U.S. relations are coming up against a number of irritants,” he told VOA.
Collins says such “irritants” include Biden’s “Buy American” plans and a “tough on China” approach that enjoys bipartisan support in Washington.
“If Trudeau wants to see action on any number of trade/economic files, he and his government will have to start addressing issues of importance to the Biden administration,” Collins told VOA.
According to Collins, the U.S. would like to see Canada spend more on defense, come up with a clear China framework, and decide conclusively against bringing Chinese telecom Huawei into its 5G networks, in line with a similar decision in the U.S., for security reasons. Additionally, the U.S. would like specifics on how Canada wants to work with the U.S. on “the next era in continental defense.”
Collins told VOA that Canada still has a lot of leverage in these discussions, as Canada has “critical minerals” that are “necessary for any big “green shift,” and can assist with foreign policy goals such as stability in Haiti. Canada hosts a large Haitian diaspora and has close ties to the Francophone country.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman told VOA that the summit “hasn’t taken place since 2016, when I was the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa.”
“The announcement that President Biden will convene the leaders next week is an incredibly positive sign and an opportunity to reinforce the importance of the region and our shared interests,” Heyman told VOA.
“This is a critical meeting,” Jo-Ann Roberts, former interim leader of Canada’s Green Party, told VOA. “All three leaders need to keep the climate change emergency at the top of their agenda.”
“We are encouraged to see President Biden encouraging Americans to buy electric vehicles, but doing that in such a way that hurts Canadian production and availability of electric vehicles is not the way to do it,” Roberts said. “We all gain when we work collaboratively, and we all lose when we work against each other.”
Zack Cooper, a senior fellow from the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank, told VOA that “President Biden has made clear that he thinks the best way for the United States to compete effectively with China is by getting our own house in order. That means not just in the United States but in North America more broadly. This will be an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate that he can deliver on that objective.”
Cooper told VOA that he was interested in seeing how President Biden’s Monday meeting with Xi Jinping would affect the North American Leaders’ Summit discussions.
U.S.-Mexico relations will likely be center stage for the members of the media worldwide, who are interested in how the Biden government and that of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will interact.
“The summit is an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to a strong partnership with its neighbors,” Patrick Quirk, of both the International Republican Institute and the Atlantic Council, told VOA. “On migration, I would hope that the leaders go beyond discussing border security and instead focus on how to resource and implement plans to address the root causes of population movement.”