Trudeau must tread carefully on NAFTA during U.S. trip: former Obama adviser

Trudeau talks trade & NAFTA negotiations in Chicago
ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embarks on his 9th visit to the United States in the last year. He's hoping to promote trade with Canada but also help save NAFTA. But as Mike Le Couteur reports, a former Obama advisor is warning him to tread lightly around trade talk.

Call it the charm offensive, Part 9.

Since Donald Trump took office a year ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has visited the United States eight times in an unprecedented public relations exercise to strengthen economic ties and save the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And Trudeau takes off for his ninth visit Wednesday.

“It’s a wise strategy to try and to touch as many bases as possible on this. We’ve seen it on climate and on other issues as well,” renowned political strategist David Axelrod told Global News.

Axelrod ran Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election campaigns and served as a special adviser to the president between 2009 and 2011.

He will also host an armchair discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics on Wednesday.

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Axelrod says Trudeau faces an interesting dilemma: while he has to maintain a productive relationship with Trump, he can’t rely solely on that relationship for the success of NAFTA. That’s why Canada’s plan has been to engage Trump, but also go around him.

READ MORE: Trudeau: Canada could walk away from NAFTA over ‘multiple issues’

Last year alone, Trudeau made the pitch for NAFTA at the National Governor’s Association and the powerful congressional Ways and Means committee. Later this week, Trudeau will deliver a speech to a bipartisan crowd at the Ronald Reagan Library in California.

“You may not want to put all your eggs in that basket because there are some fraught issues between this administration and all its trading partners right now and certainly, these talks have reflected that,” Axelrod told Global News.

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One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and he has often threatened to tear up NAFTA, calling it a terrible trade deal for Americans.

Axelrod also cautions Trudeau has to tread carefully, especially in the U.S. Midwest.

READ MORE: Donald Trump tells supporters about trade disagreement with Justin Trudeau

“There has been a loss of jobs over several decades that have been associated with globalization and the construction of manufacturing outside our borders and that has been a red flag issue for a lot of people,” Axelrod said.

Time is not on Trudeau’s side. The Mexican presidential election on July 1 could mean a change in government and change in negotiations, as could the midterm elections in the U.S. in November.

That fear is raising questions north of the border.

“Will Trump use this as some sort of political opportunity to pull out of NAFTA in the middle or just before the midterm elections just to stir up his base?” asked Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative Party.

She has been part of the Canadian delegation making frequent trips to the U.S. in an effort to save NAFTA.

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READ MORE: Trudeau’s ‘erratic’ behaviour threatens trade relationships: Scheer

While Ambrose doesn’t think this trip to Chicago and California is make-or-break for NAFTA negotiations, she does think Trudeau will have to also convince Democrats in the Golden State that the deal is worth saving.

Trade is bookending this trip with some tech talk in the middle.

One of the highlights of the trip is a closed-door meeting with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday in San Francisco.

Toronto is still in the running to become home of the tech giant’s second headquarters. If successful, it could mean 50,000 jobs for the Greater Toronto Area.

Trudeau will also be telling other Silicon Valley leaders that Canada is open for business. The pressure will be on Trudeau to pitch Canada as a destination for other high tech firms looking to partner with Canadian companies.

Company executives from the tech hubs in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, Ottawa and Montreal will be watching Trudeau carefully in the hopes he comes back to Canada will good news in the form of investments.