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Business leaders urge Trudeau to meet Pelosi, as well as Trump to push new NAFTA

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — For now, he’s going to Washington to meet President Donald Trump, but Canadian business leaders say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be talking to Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi to push the continent’s new trade pact towards ratification.

Trudeau’s Thursday trip to Washington is being billed as part of a concerted push to win ratification of the new North American trade deal in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Legislation to do just that is slowly wending through the House of Commons, and Mexico’s Senate is poised to give its final legislative approval early next week. But similar legislation has yet to be introduced in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

The Democrats would like to deny Trump a victory on the trade front, but they also have specific concerns about the labour and environment provisions of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

With the U.S. Congress set to rise at the end of July, Trump’s hopes to have the House and Senate ratify USMCA this summer — as Vice-President Mike Pence promised Trudeau last month in Ottawa — are dwindling.

Brian Kingston, vice-president of international issues for the Business Council of Canada, says that’s why Trudeau should add Pelosi to his agenda.

“I think it would be important, if there’s an opportunity, to have a discussion with the House leader. That could be beneficial primarily because, right now, the ball is fully in her court,” Kingston said in an interview Friday.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says that’s a good idea, but only if Trump asks Trudeau to speak to Democratic lawmakers.

“If they feel it would be helpful for the prime minister to speak to members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, then I would think he’d be very open to doing that,” Beatty said Friday in an interview.

“Should we insert ourselves in the process without a request from the U.S. administration? My inclination would be to ask the administration what they think would be most helpful.”

Flavio Volpe, president the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the meeting of the two leaders is probably most significant for its context rather than content.

“The Canadian prime minister publicly appearing on the same side as the American president could give Democrats some cover for supporting the new USMCA.”

The Prime Minister’s Office would only say that it would keep the media informed of Trudeau’s itinerary.

Trudeau and Trump will meet on Thursday in Washington where the new continental trade deal, as well as their shared concerns about China, will be major topics of discussion.

Business groups in all three countries are pushing for a timely ratification of the new pact because they say the uncertainty created by the long, tempestuous renegotiation of NAFTA and the ratification delays are harmful to long-term investment plans.

Canadian MPs are to adjourn by next Friday for their summer recess, their last planned sitting days before the October federal election, but they could be recalled in the summer to deal with ratification.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sidestepped questions on her trip to Washington this week about how Canada would proceed “in tandem” with the U.S. if its lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t ratify the deal before their summer recess.

In Canada, the Business Council, an association of top corporate executives, and the Chamber of Commerce, which represents 200,000 Canadian businesses across all sectors, have differing views on how urgent it is for the Trudeau government to ratify the new deal.

“Their strategy of following the U.S. process makes sense, however there will be a point where we should ratify this agreement before the election,” said Kingston.

“Our biggest concern right now is if the president does not feel the Democrats are moving quickly enough, he will withdraw from NAFTA. . . . That would be absolutely disastrous for the Canadian economy.”

NAFTA, which remains in force, allows any country to withdraw on six-month’s notice. If Trump did that, it would be the “ultimate pressure tactic” to push Congress, said Kingston.

Beatty said an earlier ratification is certainly a better option, but if the U.S. leaves it hanging, it is not imperative for the Liberal government to ratify before the federal election.

“It would be preferable, but I don’t think it’s essential. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are in favour of ratification. I would anticipate whether it’s before or after the federal election, there’s no serious impediment to ratification in Canada.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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China asks for suspension of Canadian meat, citing forged certificates

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — The Chinese Embassy said Tuesday it has asked Canada to suspended all meat exports, a surprise move that comes amid the diplomatic dispute over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for a G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The embassy said in a statement to The Canadian Press on Tuesday that this latest move follows Chinese customs inspectors’ detection of residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada but is banned in China.

“The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188. The Canadian side believes that this incident is criminal offence,” said the embassy statement.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system exists obvious safety loopholes.”

China is therefore taking “urgent preventive measures” to protect Chinese customers and has asked the Canadian government to suspend all meat-export certificates, the embassy said.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not immediately comment on the report.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec, which first reported the story, quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended import permits for three pork producers.

A senior Canadian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the dispute, described the matter as a “technical issue.”

The official said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is “seized with the issue and looking into the matter to ensure that all the rules are being followed.”

The CFIA is working with Chinese officials to resolve the matter.

“This is a technical issue related to potentially fraudulent permits,” said the official. “We stand by the quality of Canadian products.”

The Conservatives blamed Trudeau.

“Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless,” said a statement from Tory agriculture critic Luc Berthold. “It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau’s incompetence and weakness on the world stage.”

Berthold said Trudeau has to “personally raise this issue” with Xi in at the G20 meeting and demand the trade barriers be lifted.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau leans on Trump to help Canadians detained in China at G20 summit

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lean on the power and influence of the mercurial Donald Trump to raise the issue of two detained Canadians during a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president at a G20 summit in Japan this week — something the U.S. president publicly committed to doing at “Justin’s request.”

The summit comes at a critical moment for Trudeau, just months ahead of the October election and as Canada continues to push for the release of the Canadians in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Canada is in multiple trade-related disputes with China as well. Tuesday, China suspended imports of Canadian meat on the grounds that its authorities don’t trust Canadian assurances about the quality of its exports. That broadened restrictions on Canadian pork. China has also all but banned Canadian canola seeds on the grounds that previous shipments have contained pests. Exporters of peas and soybeans have also had problems.

Canadian ministers and officials have had little luck getting to speak to their opposite numbers in China.

Earlier this month in Normandy, France, Trudeau said he was looking forward to attending the G20 and that the “opportunity to engage with the Chinese president directly is certainly something that we are looking at.”

So far, however, no such meeting has been confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Trudeau’s staff will only say they expect to have information soon on which leaders Trudeau will meet in Osaka, where key themes include the global economy, trade and investment and innovation.

Trump pledged his support during a meeting with Trudeau last Thursday in the Oval Office, where the two leaders sat together in bright yellow armchairs and the president vowed to bring up the issue in a sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Are you trying to get a meeting?” Trump asked of Trudeau in response to a reporter’s question, to which the prime minister replied: “We’ve got a lot of things to discuss. “

“Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing,” Trump said.

Trudeau needs that assistance.

The detentions of Kovrig and Spavor are largely viewed as retaliation for the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition to the U.S. to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said it should not come as a surprise that China is not interested in a meeting between its president and the prime minister.

Trump will be Canada’s best shot to address the issue of the detentions, said Mulroney.

“That would be the strongest card that could be played in our interests,” he said.

“It would be an American card played to say … ‘If you want a normal relationship with us, you’ll leave our allies alone.'”

Mulroney said he would also use the G20 to talk to other leaders who face similar challenges with China and are susceptible to its bullying.

“If we can build this sense of shared purpose in pushing back against China, in not allowing ourselves to be isolated like this, that’s a big step forward,” he said.

“It is in America’s interest and it is in the interest of a lot of other countries to see China pull back from hostage diplomacy and bullying… The only way to counter that is through collective action and that is a long, hard slog.”

Christopher Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at John Hopkins University, said Canada doesn’t play offence very much but he agreed it would be advisable for Canada to talk to other leaders about the detained Canadians.

Beyond asking for Trump’s support, countries like Japan, South Korea and perhaps India might be willing to do the same, Sands said, adding that would only strengthen the U.S. president’s commitment to the cause.

To date, a list of countries including Australia, France, German, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K. have spoken in support of the detained Canadians. 

Rohinton Medhora, the president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said he will be watching to see who else Xi meets in one-on-one sessions — called “bilaterals,” or just “bilats,” in diplomatic circles.

“Beyond the Trump bilat, how many other bilats does he grant?” Medhora said. “If it turns out that he has very few others, then I wouldn’t read that much into it. On the other hand, if he has half a dozen and Canada isn’t one of them, then I would read something into that.”

The G20 is an opportunity to show whether Canada is a player or not and its place in the world, Medhora added.

“I would say the pressure (is on), especially going into an election when you have to demonstrate that Canada is better and different than four years ago,” he said.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Erin O’Toole echoed that point, saying it is critical Canada not let the opportunity afforded by the G20 pass, especially given the upcoming election campaign.

“As of September, the writ will drop,” he said. “This is really the last major time to really shake up and try to stop the spiral of the China relationship.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

 

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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