Washington wants to "reinvigorate" the Canada-US relationship

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After four tumultuous years under Donald Trump, the White House is sending the signal that it wants to revamp the Canada-US relationship. Radio-Canada has learned that commitments will be announced between the two countries, particularly with regard to the development of an electric vehicle industry.

Joe Biden will not be alone behind his screen for this virtual summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. Several heavyweights from his administration will be in attendance, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Janet Yellen at the Treasury, John Kerry, the President’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The presence of the Secretaries for Defense, Internal Security and Transport was also mentioned. The official list remains to be finalized.

In a special briefing given to Radio-Canada, a senior Biden administration official insisted that the exercise was not a routine summit.

The Prime Minister and the President will announce, at the end of this meeting, a roadmap with a concrete list of things to do for invigorate the partnership between the two countries.

Electrical sector

Post-pandemic economic recovery will be on the agenda, and among the priority issues is the development of a North American electricity industry.

Radio-Canada learned that at the Biden-Trudeau summit, the two men will commit to working together better to become world leaders in the development and manufacture of batteries of electric vehicles. Senior US and Canadian officials say this will be an important part of the green recovery and job creation on both sides of the border.

Right now, the vast majority of rare minerals used to make these batteries are produced in China. The United States wants to source from Canada in order to avoid reliance on the Beijing regime, should economic sanctions tighten.

It must be recognized that Canada and the United States have a strong relationship in the field of energy, which must be secured, indicates a US source. On the Canadian side, we recognize that this is a opportunity to position yourself to be an integral part of a North American supply chain.

This will allow us to ensure the future development and growth of the Canadian electricity sector, in the automotive and aerospace sector, indicates a Canadian government source.

The Liberal government had already announced its intentions in the November Speech from the Throne.

Joe Biden signing the decree.

The new president of the United States signed an executive order last January to prioritize American companies and products in contracts with the federal government.

Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

Buy American and protectionism

On the Canadian side, the recent tightening of the Buy American Act rules by President Biden is raising concerns.

This thorny issue will be on the menu of discussions. Americans know our supply chains are interconnected, and they are sensitive to our demand for an exemption from Buy American, says a Canadian source familiar with the discussions.

It is in our mutual interest, with Canada, to consult regularly and actively to avoid disruption to trade and our economic cooperation., underlined the American official.

At the summit, the two countries are expected to commit to preserving their supply chains and promoting the North American economy, according to this same source.

Despite these good intentions, Bruce Heyman, former US ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama, recalls that the White House is prioritizing its own economy at this time. Millions of Americans are out of work. The government's priority is to find them work, he emphasizes.

But the former diplomat is reassuring and reminds that the adoption of protectionist measures of this type south of the border is not new.

Historically, there have been exceptions that have affected many Canadian companies and businesses, he recalls, with regard to the procurement of crucial goods and services.

Michael Kergin, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, goes in the same direction. I think we have some good cards (up our sleeve) because the savings are very integrated, he points out.

In order to rebuild our two economies and help each other recover from COVID, we will need to work together through our infrastructure projects, says Maryscott Greenwod, CEO of the Canada-American Business Council.

Read also :

  • Joe Biden shakes Canadian exporters
  • Joe Biden wants "extreme competition" with China, but no conflict

The fate of the two Michael

The virtual meeting will also be an opportunity to raise the fate of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians detained in China for more than two years. Two years too long, said senior administration official Biden.

This issue will undoubtedly be discussed between the two leaders to determine how we can work together to secure the release of the two Michael. It’s a priority for Canada, it’s a priority for us, indicated this American source.

However, former Ambassador Michael Kergin has little hope that the official bilateral meeting will help their lot in the short term. For weeks now Joe Biden has said he does not want to interfere in the affairs of the US Department of Justice.

The possibility of political influence from the White House, it's going to be a little more difficult, given that relations between the United States and China are quite complicated and the Americans have their own files to deal with the Chinese. .

Michael Kergin, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States
A delivery of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to the distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, December 20, 2020.

The delivery of COVID-19 vaccines should be discussed at the Biden-Trudeau summit.

Photo: Reuters / Paul Sancya

Progress on vaccines?

We will announce plans tomorrow to collaborate on vaccine delivery, said the American source, who recalls that mechanisms are already in place between the two countries in terms of information sharing and of research.

In particular, Tuesday's announcement could affect the COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable distribution and access worldwide.

Before we can reopen our economy, we must end COVID everywhere, said a Canadian source.

So far, Canada has been denied doses of vaccines produced on American soil because the United States wants to put its citizens first. Could this change? Could Canada benefit from an easing?

Considering the extent of traffic and trade between our countries, we want to ensure that Canada and Mexico recover from the pandemic. We'll have more to say tomorrow, said the senior American official.

Virtual and unusual format

Technically, President Biden is the host of this meeting, albeit virtually. The meeting should in principle last two hours. The first part will take place with a small group of ministers. The second part will include a dozen Canadian ministers and American secretaries of state.

When the summit is over, the two heads of state will make a joint public statement, but will not answer questions from journalists.

The mere fact that this meeting is the first of its kind for the Biden administration since he was sworn in is very symbolic, notes Raymond Chrétien, former Canadian ambassador to Washington. Especially, he adds, since the head-to-head is not exclusively between Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, but concerns a good part of their team.

It is important that these links between ministers and secretaries are forged quickly. Good understanding facilitates future discussions and this has repercussions on the other levels within the two governments.

Raymond Chrétien, former Canadian Ambassador to Washington

This is a very good sign that we are on the same page in several cases, like the pandemic, climate change, the fight against racial inequalities, says a Canadian source, and this will be reflected in the announcements following the meeting.

Former US Ambassador Bruce Heyman says it is a new chapter that begins and that the Trudeau government will regain trust, honesty, integrity, shared values ​​and a government more aligned with Canada, he believes.

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