Justin Trudeau’s March 10-11 trip to Washington was the first state visit by a Canadian prime minister since 1997. The historic visit marked a transition of international relations that Trudeau promises will be stronger and more cooperative than his Conservative predecessor.
The Prime Minister affirmed he is committed to renewing relationships with Canada’s closest neighbours, and this trip magnified a host of issues that revolve around Canadian-American policy. Both leaders issued a joint statement highlighting the details of their agreements.
With a new air about the relationship between the two countries, this will not be the last face-to-face meeting between the two leaders. Obama has accepted an invitation to come to Canada as part of a Canada-US-Mexico leaders’ summit in June.
Climate Change Leads Announcements
Both President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are at unique points in their leadership. Relatively new to office, Trudeau is ready to make good on his campaign promises, while Obama is eager to solidify a legacy for himself as a champion of more sustainable environmental policies. So beyond the photo-ops during the Prime Minister’s trip to Washington, Canadians saw quick action on climate change.
In fact, the Continental Climate Change Strategy was perhaps the highest profiled topic around the state dinner table. Both leaders committed to work together to implement the Paris Agreement, and committed to join and sign the Agreement in the near future. Further to that, our two countries will now coordinate more closely on domestic climate action. This includes, in particular, taking joint action to reduce methane emissions by 40-45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 from the oil and gas sector. As well, the two countries will work together to propose new actions in 2016 to reduce the use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.
The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to continue collaboration towards the finalization and implementation of a second phase of aligned greenhouse gas emission standards for post-2018 model year on-road heavy-duty vehicles.
On energy issues, the leaders committed to working together to facilitate the integration of renewables on our interconnected energy grids, aligning energy efficiency standards, accelerating clean energy and clean technology innovation, and developing a joint U.S.-Canadian strategy for strengthening the security and resilience of the North American electricity grid.
New Border Security Cooperation
The United States’ focus on security and border issues has steered much of the dialogue between the two countries for the last decade. As the front-runner for the Republican candidacy talks of deportations, Canada is focused on admitting refugees in near record numbers. The increasingly polarized views on immigration in both countries has the potential to be a future source of contention for international relations, particularly with our 6,400 km shared border.
In 2011, Canada and The United States issued the declaration Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness, which highlighted the need for a stable long-term partnership that promoted economic competitiveness and enhanced security for both countries. The Declaration expired in October 2015, so the leaders needed to discuss alternatives. In representing Canadian interests, the Prime Minister will need to balance Canada’s border security interests with what is politically possible for the Americans – particularly in an election year. The trick will be finding the right balance.
Canadians have been concerned about the American push towards the adoption of an exit/entry system that tracks data and distributes it to both Canadian and American authorities. While an agreement has not yet been reached, both sides have agreed in principle to increase U.S. customs preclearance at smaller high traffic airports like Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, which will help increase the flow of trade between the two countries.
Trade Issues Prominent for Canada
On the Canadian side of the trade debate, the primary concern has been increased access to trade. The United States is Canada’s largest trade partner, consuming just over 70 per cent of Canada’s exports. One of the largest exports for Canadians is softwood lumber; Canada’s forestry sector supports thousands of jobs across the country and impacts a multitude of related services and industries.
Since 2006, the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) with the United States has allowed for both countries to move beyond historical disputes towards more mutually beneficial softwood lumber trade. For the initial seven-year term of the SLA, Canadian companies saw a return of more than $5 billion in duty deposits from American authorities. After the extension of the initial agreement, the contract expired last October.
While Canadian industry is eager to secure a new deal before October of this year when tariffs will increase, some Americans are more hesitant. U.S. lumber producers are vocally opposed to re-signing the 2006 agreement and U.S. officials may be hesitant to renegotiate a deal in the last year of Obama’s elected term. It was not expected that an agreement would be announced during Trudeau’s State visit; however, negotiations will continue.