‘Suck­ing up’ for the greater good

Trudeau ex­er­cises pa­tience in Wash­ing­ton

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - John Ivison

• Justin Trudeau would prob­a­bly have pref erred to drink gaso­line straight from the noz­zle rather than mug for the cam­eras out­side the White House with a pres­i­dent who, ac­cord­ing to fresh re­ports in Van­ity Fair, is in the process of “un­rav­el­ling.”

Diplo­macy de­manded he fake a ric­tus smile Wed­nes­day while Don­ald Trump com­plained about the press’s “dis­gust­ing” ten­dency to “write what­ever they want to write.”

Pa­tri­otic duty com­pelled him to grin and bear it, as Trump per­formed his al­pha dog rou­tine dur­ing the photo op.

The Lon­don Daily Ex­press asked a body lan­guage ex­pert, Judi James, to in­ter­pret the ex­change.

“Trudeau l ooks deliri­ously happy to go into body lan­guage suck-up mode with Trump here, nestling close be­side him and grin­ning as Trump per­forms the point­ing and thumbs- up rit­u­als that he used to do with fans out­side the lift at Trump Tow­ers.

“Trump’s thumbs- up ges­tures im­ply a fun, easy-go­ing re­la­tion­ship with Trudeau, although it also seems to sig­nal a low level of re­spect. The com­edy point is a sub­tle way to put down Trudeau’s vis­i­ble sta­tus,” she said.

The prime min­is­ter’s pa­tience in tol­er­at­ing be­hav­iour usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with an ego­cen­tric school­yard bully was ad­mirable, even if it fell short of the first com­mand­ment of Cana­dian for­eign pol­icy — to re­main friendly with the United States while pre­serv­ing self-re­spect.

But Trudeau has risked mor­ti­fi­ca­tion in pur­suit of a re­newed NAFTA deal.

His “easy­go­ing” re­la­tion­ship with Trump may end up be­ing the dif­fer­ence between suc­cess and fail­ure.

The lat­est edi­tion of The Econ­o­mist sets out what is at stake for the Lib­eral govern­ment. In an ar­ti­cle that de­tailed the mis­takes and mishaps af­flict­ing Canada’s gov­ern­ing party, the pa­per ar­gued that Trudeau’s pop­u­lar­ity re­lies on a grow­ing econ­omy. “Most fore­cast­ers ex­pect growth to slow in 2018 but to re­main faster than in other G7 coun­tries. Un­less Mr. Trump starts a trade war,” it con­cluded.

But how do you strike a free trade deal with a pro­tec­tion­ist?

For­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper was also in Wash­ing­ton this week talk­ing NAFTA. While he re­frained from of­fer­ing ad­vice, he said what he had learned f rom t rade ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Euro­pean Union is that smaller play­ers have to un­der­stand what a win would look like for the other side.

In the case of Canada-U. S. ne­go­ti­a­tions, it looks like Trump sees a win be­ing a bi­lat­eral deal that jet­ti­sons Mex­ico. That might be hard for him to en­gi­neer, un­less Mex­ico walks away of its own vo­li­tion.

Trade ex­pert Larry Herman said the U. S. with­draw­ing from NAFTA would not be a sim­ple mat­ter and would re­quire Con­gres­sional ap­proval, which by many ac­counts would not be forth­com­ing.

But the sit­u­a­tion would be­come con­sid­er­ably less com­pli­cated were the Mex­i­cans to quit uni­lat­er­ally — an even­tu­al­ity the coun­try’s f or­eign sec­re­tary mused about openly this week.

Canada’s prize is con­tin­ued pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to the U.S., with whom we have a $752-bil­lion-a-year trad­ing re­la­tion­ship. By con­trast, we trade just $ 27 bil­lion in goods and ser­vices with Mex­ico ev­ery year.

Global Af­fairs min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said ear­lier this year that Canada would not throw Mex­ico un­der the bus. Per­haps not. But were Tierra Azteca to slip be­neath the wheels, Canada should not risk her own well-be­ing.

Friends change but in­ter­ests are en­dur­ing — and in many cases, those of Canada and the U. S. align more closely than those of Canada and Mex­ico.

On Thurs­day, Gen­eral Mo­tors an­nounced it is ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of its Chevro­let Equinox at two plants in Mex­ico, rather than at the GM CAMI plant at Inger­soll, Ont., where 3,000 au­towork­ers are on strike. This is lan­guage that Trump un­der­stands.

In Wash­ing­ton Thurs­day, the U. S. tabled its lat­est con- ten­tious de­mand — a sun­set clause that would ter­mi­nate a re­newed NAFTA af­ter five years. That comes on the heels of the in­tro­duc­tion of far stricter Buy Amer­i­can pro­cure­ment rules, and in ad­vance of new rules for auto parts, which are ex­pected to be an­nounced as early as Fri­day.

Mex­i­can sen­a­tors have al­ready laid out six so-called red lines which, if crossed, would lead them to re­ject a mod­i­fied trade deal. They in­clude the sun­set clause, as well as U. S. con­tent re­quire­ments for auto man­u­fac­tur­ing and an end to the ex­ist­ing dis­pute-res­o­lu­tion set­tle­ment.

It is easy to con­clude the Amer­i­cans are try­ing to goad the Mex­i­cans into re­act­ing, and at some stage, the Mex­i­cans may oblige.

But Canada has to be more clear-eyed.

Trudeau’s ac­cep­tance of the beta dog sub­or­di­nate role sug­gests he is pre­pared to do what­ever is re­quired to get a deal. “We have to be ready for any­thing,” he said.

That ap­par­ently in­cludes play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to a man who, if Van­ity Fair is to be be­lieved, is so un­sta­ble he is in dan­ger of be­ing re­moved from of­fice by his own Cabi­net.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IM­AGES

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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