Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be among the headliners when 3,000 of the world’s elite business leaders, activists and politicians gather this week for the annual invite-only World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
But while Trudeau and his ministers will be talking up Canada as they network at the $71,000-a-ticket confab, their minds will very much be on what is a crucial week for the state of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations.
As Trudeau flies to Switzerland on Monday, Canadian, American and Mexican negotiating teams will be setting up shop in Montreal for the seventh round of NAFTA negotiations, a round which opens up amid increasing expectations that U.S. President Donald Trump will pull his country out of NAFTA.
WATCH: Negotiating NAFTA and mingling in Davos
And while Canada is prepared for Trump to pull the pin on the trade deal, it will continue to argue that all three countries are better off with the deal than without it. So, while in Davos, Trudeau will host a “Canada-US economic round table” discussion with business leaders that will emphasize the ties between the two countries. And Trudeau will cap off his week overseas by hosting a reception where he and the four cabinet ministers accompanying him will promote new investment in Canada by touting Canadian innovation.
“For me, it’s going to be a really important opportunity to talk about NAFTA, to talk about NAFTA with the world and with our trading partners,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday. “Davos is a gathering of global — and American – CEOs.”
Freeland will head to the Swiss Alps after a Monday morning meeting in Toronto with Mexican Economy Secretary Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo. In fact, both Freeland and Guajardo are to speak to the World Economic Forum specifically about the state of NAFTA negotiations as well as other global trade issues.
WATCH: Freeland holds bilateral NAFTA talks with Mexico ahead of new negotiations in Montreal
And while U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will not join them for that panel discussion, Lighthizer will be in Davos as well and is expected to meet with Freeland and Ildefonso on the margins of the summit as all three parties try to advance NAFTA negotiations back in Montreal.
Coincidentally, Davos was the birthplace of NAFTA, according to former Mexican President Carlos Salinas. Salinas has said the idea of Mexico joining the existing U.S. and Canada Free Trade Agreement was “born” at a World Economic Forum meeting in 1990.
For Trudeau, his week at Davos will be his second visit to this annual forum. He will be one of more than 70 heads of government or heads of state in Davos – a record for the 47-year-old summit — and is one of just a handful, along with Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to have been given a prestigious speaking slot during the week-long event.
Trudeau will speak Tuesday to the Davos gathering and is expected to use his slot to sketch out how he plans to advance the themes for Canada’s G7 presidency this year.
Many of those themes will be familiar to those who’ve watched the Trudeau government at home for the last two years; a focus on gender equality, women’s empowerment and working together to fight climate change and develop clean energy.
IN 2016: Trudeau wrapped up Davos visit for economic forum Saturday
Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef is also travelling with Trudeau to Davos. On Tuesday, she’ll participate in a panel discussion on gender, power and stemming sexual harassment, one of several panel discussions during the week addressing gender issues. Trudeau himself will participate in one of those when, on Wednesday, he joins Malala Yousafzai and two other women to discuss ways to ensure equal access to education for girls and boys. Yousafzai, 20, is the honourary Canadian citizen who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in her native Pakistan and went on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate for her work as a champion of the education rights of girls.
The Davos gathering has often been a lightning rod for critics who believe the forces of globalism have caused more harm than good. Indeed, one of the sharpest critics of the elite that attend the Davos summit is this year’s star attraction: Donald Trump. (Mind you: If the U.S. government remains shut down, Trump almost certainly will stay behind in Washington to deal with that crisis.)
Trump literally campaigned against everything Davos stands for. When he speaks to the group on its closing day Friday, he is expected to argue, as he did last fall at the United Nations General Assembly, that the world would be better off if every country adopted their own version of his “Make America Great Again” program. It seeks to avoid the kind of multilateral treaties, trade deals and other arrangements that are at the heart of the liberal international order largely created, ironically enough, by United States presidents after the Second World War.
Trump will find the Davos crowd a tough audience to win over with that view as Davos devotees, including Trudeau, have an unshakeable conviction that the only way to fight global problems like climate change or terrorism is with a multilateral co-ooperative efforts and that the U.S., for most of the last 70 years, has been an indispensable partner in those efforts.
“We need collaborative efforts,” World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab said Monday. “And Davos has become the annual, most representative high-level, multi-stakeholder summit.”
Trudeau, though, is not expected to be in Davos when Trump speaks Friday afternoon. Trudeau’s itinerary has him leaving Davos late Thursday and returning to Canada early Friday morning.
WATCH: Trudeau departs for World Economic Forum in Davos