WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is aiming for a do-over with Canada.
On Thursday, Pence will become the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Ottawa. The trip comes a year after President Donald Trump insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, creating one of the most difficult periods between the top allies in decades.
Pence’s aim is to push for passage of a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal reached by the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments last fall that must still be ratified by the countries.
However, the trip is also a chance for Pence to smooth over recent squabbles with a longstanding U.S. ally – a task that has become familiar for the vice president.
“I think Vice President Pence is in a great position to communicate to our allies, including Canada, how we’re willing to work together with them, instead of picking fights with them,” said Brian Riley, director of the National Taxpayers Union’s Free Trade Initiative.
Daniel Ujczo, an Ohio-based attorney who specializes in international trade, called it extraordinary that Trump hasn’t made an official visit to the government. President Barack Obama, for example, visited Ottawa in the first month of his presidency, making it his first foreign trip.
Trump has been to Canada, but only because Quebec hosted a Group of Seven meeting of industrialized nations last June. Just days before the summit, Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The trade dispute contributed to the acrimony of the summit, which Trump left early. And after Trudeau told reporters he would not be pushed around by the United States, Trump called the prime minister “very dishonest and weak.”
Some Canadians took the insults personally, prompting calls to boycott American products.
Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada and author of “The Art of Diplomacy,” said he will be watching for whether Pence takes this opportunity to acknowledge how Canadians viewed the last two years.
“If he just gets up and starts talking about trade…then I don’t think he’s addressing the elephant in the room,” Heyman said. “Somebody within the administration has to recognize the damage they’ve done.”
The administration took a major step towards restoring the relationship when it lifted the steel and aluminum tariffs earlier this month.
Pence quickly announced he would travel to Canada to meet with Trudeau on advancing “as swiftly as possible” the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico that Trump dubbed the USMCA.
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