Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech to the National Governors Association on Friday in Providence, Rhode Island is not an effort to bypass the White House ahead of the renegotiation of NAFTA, according to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.
To change that narrative, Canadian officials are highlighting the fact that Trudeau will have a lengthy bilateral meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Pence is expected to deliver the opening address to the meeting of between 30 and 40 governors from across the United States.
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Trudeau is the first head of government ever to be invited to give the keynote speech to the governors association, and sources say it’s an opportunity he couldn’t and shouldn’t pass up.
The speech, followed by a question-and-answer period, is expected to remind the governors that Canada is the U.S.’s second-largest trading partner and among the top three export destinations for nearly two-thirds of the country’s states.
Canada didn’t want to re-open NAFTA, but now that it’s happening, the goal of Trudeau’s day trip is to convince state leaders that any major changes to the trade deal could have negative fallout for citizens on both sides of the border.
Trudeau will warn against the thickening of the border and disruption of the $673 billion in merchandise trade between the two countries.
While the speech is important, the one-on-one meetings with individual governors will be equally crucial.
“We’re in a new type of trade negotiation with the Trump administration,” said former Canadian trade negotiator Peter Clark. “You need all the friends you can get, you have to talk to everybody you can talk to.”
Helping in the charm offensive Friday will be Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who are accompanying Trudeau on this trip.
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Freeland has made numerous trips to Washington with other Canadian officials, including members of the special committee within the PMO tasked with maintaining good relations with the Trump administration.
“(Friday’s event) should result in a better understanding of our issues and where we’re going, we are very important to those states and to those governors as large markets,” explained Clark.
These meetings are all about figuring out where the battle lines will be drawn for the possible trilateral agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. Congress is expected to make public its priorities next week.