Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leaders from Asian and Pacific nations — so eager to cement free trade in the region — are walking out of an annual summit facing an uncertain future about the movement of goods, people and services across borders.
That uncertainty has been created with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and his anti-trade rhetoric set to take over the White House, potentially leaving a leadership vacuum on the world stage.
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Trudeau said on Sunday that he looks forward to welcoming Trump to Canada, hopefully soon after his inauguration in January. Following a meeting with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, Trudeau added that the two leaders discussed the softwood lumber trade issue that stems from an expired 2006 export agreement.
In the meeting with Trudeau, Obama spoke about the work the two have done on refugees and climate change — two areas where Trump has voiced concerns and vowed to roll back environmental funding and put in stricter immigration rules. Obama praised Trudeau and said he looked forward to the prime minister’s continued leadership on those issues in the coming years.
Obama said he and Trudeau are going to push to get as much work completed on thinning the borders during the last two months of his presidency.
Ongoing lumber dispute
Trudeau said the ongoing softwood lumber dispute and pre-clearance for visitors crossing borders were among the issues the two discussed.
In a seeming nod to the shadow of Trump hanging over the summit, the outgoing president tried to ease nerves in Canada that the Liberal prime minister would clash with the Republican president-elect, who has also threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement unless he gets concessions from Canada.
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“One thing that I think should be emphasized is that through Conservative governments, Liberal governments, Democratic or Republican governments, the relationship between the United States and Canada is one of the most important constants in the world and I have no doubt that that will continue,” Obama said.
Trump may kill TPP
Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric has shaken up the agenda of the meeting, particularly his threat to cancel a Pacific Rim trade pact that includes Canada.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would open up trade among 12 nations encompassing nearly 40 per cent of the world’s GDP, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the United States.
Trump has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the deal, a move that would effectively kill the agreement that U.S. President Barack Obama touted as a counterbalance to China’s growing economic sway in the Asia-Pacific region.
During a closed-door session Saturday with TPP members, Obama urged them not to give up on the deal.
Leaders in the room voiced support for moving ahead with trade pact if the stars aligned in the coming months, and no country said it was ready to walk away from the agreement, according to international officials who were in the room, but not authorized to speak publicly about the talks.
The final declaration from the 21 leaders of Asian and Pacific countries speaks of keeping borders open to trade, avoiding currency manipulation and devaluation, and ensuring that everyone benefits from economic growth because not all countries and sectors have rebounded equally from the 2008 global financial crisis.
Trump has referenced each of those as things he wants addressed in trade deals that he believes are unfair for the American economy.
“We’re trying to focus in on globalization and economic growth that is also inclusive and sustainable. That’s easy to say, but it’s quite complex to know what it can actually mean in terms of policy development,” said Alan Bollard, executive director of the APEC secretariat.
China’s president promised delegates at the conference that his country would continue to push for free trade deals in the region, saying countries needed to come closer together instead of being pulled further apart.
Xi Jinping vowed to give foreign investors more access to his country and to create pilot areas to test free trade in China.