Trudeau turns at­ten­tion to Mex­ico

Play­ing longer game amid NAFTA ten­sions

Vancouver Sun - - POLITICS - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

MEX­ICO CITY • The Lib­eral govern­ment’s ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy as a mix of for­mal and pub­lic diplo­macy was on full dis­play Thurs­day as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ar­rived for his first state visit to Mex­ico.

The pomp and cir­cum­stance that greeted Trudeau at the air­port was fol­lowed by a som­bre wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at a mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing Mex­ico’s ef­forts to beat back an Amer­i­can in­va­sion in the 1850s — an apt im­age as both Canada and Mex­ico now con­tem­plate how to with­stand new U.S. strong-arm­ing ef­forts over trade.

While the on­go­ing rene­go­ti­a­tions of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment was to be the cen­tre­piece of Trudeau’s bi­lat­eral meet­ing with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto, the Cana­dian govern­ment is also in Mex­ico to play a longer game.

Pena Ni­eto’s term is nearly up and with Mex­ico as one of the coun­tries on Trudeau’s pri­or­ity list for stronger re­la­tions, one goal of this visit is to forge new re­la­tion­ships and ce­ment Canada’s stand­ing in the eyes of Mex­i­cans as a trusted part­ner in all things, not just trade.

Hence, Thurs­day’s visit to a Red Cross dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre, where Trudeau and his wife, So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau, donned vol­un­teer vests and handed over boxes of baby goods, foods and house­hold sup­plies for earth­quake re­lief ef­forts. To the whir of a wall of cam­eras, they packed do­na­tion boxes, toured the cen­tre and shook hands with beam­ing vol­un­teers to the chants of “Canada.”

I love Mex­ico, said Trudeau, whose ar­rival in Mex­ico City fol­lowed a day of meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., fo­cused on res­cu­ing the ail­ing North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

Trudeau was asked whether a bi­lat­eral deal with Mex­ico could be in the cards should the tri­lat­eral talks fail.

He said he knows there are other paths that could be pur­sued, and they’ll be fol­lowed if nec­es­sary. But for now, he re­mains op­ti­mistic.

“I con­tinue to be­lieve in NAFTA; I con­tinue to be­lieve that as a con­ti­nent, work­ing to­gether in com­ple­men­tary ways is bet­ter for our ci­ti­zens and bet­ter for eco­nomic growth, and al­lows us to com­pete on a stronger foot­ing with the global econ­omy,” Trudeau said.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau, in Wash­ing­ton for meet­ings with G20 fi­nance min­is­ters and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, was con­fronted Thurs­day with sev­eral ques­tions about a pos­si­ble U.S. exit from NAFTA.

“There’s a path to be op­ti­mistic here and, you know, maybe he’ll come around,” Morneau said, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has said it would be fine if NAFTA is ter­mi­nated. “I’m of the view that over the long term, be­cause trade has been so ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery­one, that we will get through pe­ri­ods of ques­tion.”

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and wife So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau help with earth­quake re­lief at the Red Cross in Mex­ico City on Thurs­day.

RE­BECCA BLACK­WELL / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Justin Trudeau and So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau, left, visit with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto and wife An­gel­ica Rivera in Mex­ico City on Thurs­day.

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