For nearly two decades, no Canadian leader made an official Washington visit -- and no American really noticed. How the situation has changed. When Canada’s new youthful prime minister, Justin Trudeau, spends Thursday in D.C., at appearances that include a state dinner, Washington will be watching every move the 44-year-old liberal politician makes.
Trudeau, elected last year in a rout of Canada's Conservative Party leaders, will be feted with all the pageantry the White House can muster.
Trudeau’s official visit, the first for a Canadian leader in 19 years, comes at a time when his election has made it -- almost -- cool to be from the “Great White North.” Hanging over Trudeau’s private talks with President Barack Obama, their planned joint press conference and the invitation-only state dinner will be Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner whose bellicose -- and unexpected -- presence hangs over all things U.S. politics these days.
Though White House officials and experts doubt the two leaders will discuss it, a bit by a radio disc jockey in Cape Breton Island , off Canada’s Atlantic coast, offering Americans affordable housing and open arms if Trump becomes president, recently went viral.
U.S. cable news networks responded by asking ordinary Americans if they would take up the offer -- and many said yes, though it’s unclear just how many have done so after similar pledges in previous election cycles.
On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, White House officials signaled the two leaders have no plans to discuss "The Donald," only noting their shared belief that Trump’s rhetoric seems an attempt to “try to divide people by race or religion or what have you.”
Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in an interview that he bets Obama and Trudeau might briefly discuss Trump and the DJ’s offer to disenchanted Americans. “But, if so, it would only be in a very lighthearted way. ... There will be no reason for any substantive discussion of the U.S. presidential race. They’re going to have plenty of important issues to cover.”
Matt Browne of the Center for American Progress said that "during the entire visit, though, I think we’ll see talk about the entire approach back home that Trudeau has adopted: pushing back on the brand of economic-and identity-based politics that we’re seeing in the U.S. and parts of Europe."
Late last year, Trudeau personally greeted incoming Syrian refugees arriving in his country; major media outlets reported it as a direct rebuke of Trump . But beyond the spectacle of the Canadian leader’s official visit and the hovering clouds of Trump’s juggernaut campaign will be substantive talks, White House officials and experts said this week.
Obama administration officials and U.S.-Canadian relations experts say issues such as trade, easing the flow of goods across the countries’ massive shared border, and partnering on other economic issues will dominate the agenda.
Mark Feierstein, who oversees Western Hemisphere policy for the White House National Security Council, this week called the economic partnership “the largest, most comprehensive, and most integrated trade and investment relationships of any two countries.”
All signs indicate Obama and Trudeau, two leaders known more for their progressive ideologies than for business acumen, will seek to make the economic partnership even more lucrative on both sides of the border.
For instance, there could be an announcement about further agreement on something bureaucrats and business people call “pre-clearance.” That wonky word refers to the screening of goods destined for America or its northern neighbor that are cleared by customs and security agents on the other’s soil. Simply, that means each country is trusting the other to have sufficient security processes in order. Last March, the two countries inked a new pre-clearance pact that allows “immigration, customs and agriculture inspections required for entry into either country to occur on foreign soil -- while [reducing] congestion and delays at the border and increase efficiency and predictability in cross-border travel, tourism and transportation,” according to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet.
Might there be something coming on Thursday? Administration officials hinted in the affirmative.
Also on the docket will be climate change, and how the two leaders can help bring about more global agreement on reducing carbon emissions and moving the U.S. and Canadian economies closer to a “post-carbon age.”
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