Joly, Freeland, Ng and Mendicino to take part in summit with Trudeau in D.C.

·5 min read

WASHINGTON — The "Team Canada" approach that got the federal Liberal government through the raucous renegotiation of NAFTA three years ago will be back on full display this week in the U.S. capital.

Four cabinet ministers — two of them in brand-new portfolios — will accompany Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he takes part in Thursday's North American Leaders' Summit at the White House.

Newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will travel to D.C. after meeting Marcelo Ebrard, the secretary of foreign affairs for the United Mexican States, for the first time in Mexico City.

Federal officials say Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, International Trade Minister Mary Ng and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino will also join Trudeau at the summit, which includes U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

It will be the first time the three leaders have met together in person since Canada hosted the last trilateral summit in 2016.

"I've taken a Team Canada approach; I'll continue to do that," Ng said before Tuesday's cabinet meeting.

"The work that I and this government have been doing, and you have seen us continuously do this, is to stand up for Canadian interests and to make sure that our Canadian workers and our Canadian industries continue to have access to (the U.S.) market, an important trading partner for Canada."

Trudeau indicated Monday that Job 1 for him will be to push back on Buy American, the long-standing protectionist doctrine Biden has embraced and promoted as a key tenet of his multibillion-dollar infrastructure overhaul.

Canada and Mexico both are especially concerned about Biden's proposed tax credit for electric vehicles, worth up to $12,500 to a prospective buyer, which critics say is too heavily weighted toward American-made cars and trucks that are built with union labour.

"They are our largest trading partner, and the integration of the supply chains are just so incredibly important," Ng said. "We have a joint objective to fight climate change and to build out an automobile sector, and the automobile sector of the future is electric vehicles. So I fully intend to stand up for Canada's interests."

As it often is, migration will be a high priority for Mexico, which has been waiting for two decades for U.S. progress on comprehensive immigration reform — a politically divisive idea that weds tougher enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border with pathways to citizenship for existing unauthorized immigrants.

But a robust and competitive North American economy free of American protectionism is the most solid foundation on which to erect immigration reform, said Martha Bárcena, a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S.

"One of the most important areas is to allay fears about protectionism in any of the three countries, and to really think that the U.S. alone cannot be competitive vis-a-vis China, but it needs the North American region," Bárcena told a panel discussion Tuesday hosted by the Atlantic Council.

"The main challenge in this very moment is to increase the competitiveness of the North American region and to strengthen the region, and because it will strengthen economically the region, then we will create more employment, and that will help also to deal with the issues of migration."

Biden, whose approval ratings have been testing new lows in recent weeks, enjoyed a rare bipartisan victory Monday as he signed his $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill after a bruising battle on Capitol Hill. Conspicuously absent from his public remarks on the subject since then has been any mention of Buy American — a tacit show of quiet diplomacy, perhaps, in advance of Thursday's summit.

The second part of Biden's ambitious "Build Back Better" agenda, a $1.75-trillion suite of climate mitigation and social spending measures including the contentious EV tax credit, is next up for a vote in the House of Representatives, possibly before the end of the week.

That bill faces a rougher ride in the evenly split Senate, where moderate West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin has already expressed misgivings about the tax credit proposal and lawmakers in general are growing ever more anxious about inflation, which exceeds six per cent in the U.S.

Mexico agrees that the tax credit proposal violates the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement "both in spirit and letter," said Juan José Gómez Camacho, the country's ambassador to Canada.

"We are on the same page with Canada in terms of our concerns regarding these trade issues," Gómez Camacho said in an interview from Mexico City following Joly's meeting with Ebrard.

If Buy American is the single biggest threat to economic growth in Canada and Mexico, some level of commitment on that front from the U.S. might be the single most important goal for Trudeau and López Obrador on Thursday, said Kenneth Frankel, president of the Canadian Council for the Americas.

"I think the most that we might expect out of this, or hope for out of this — besides interesting words — is a rebuilding of some confidence," Frankel told the Atlantic Council panel.

"I don't think it's an overstatement to say that if they can get confidence building out of this meeting, that might be a huge step forward."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2021.

— With files from Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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