WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama says Canada and the United States are blessed to be neighbours, allies and the closest of friends—even if they may disagree about beer and hockey.
The president is welcoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, to the White House in the first official state visit by a Canadian Prime Minister to the U.S. Capitol since 1997.
They were accompanied by some of their officials, including Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and American Secretary of State John Kerry.
Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, with more than $2 billion worth of goods and services crossing the border every day. About 75 per cent of Canada’s exports go to the U.S.
Besides trade, the two leaders were expected to seek common ground on environment protection. Before their meeting, the U.S. and Canada said in a statement that they will work to put in place an international agreement in Paris on curbing global warming. They committed to reducing methane emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent from 2012 levels over the coming decade.
Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities and is much more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide.
Tall and fit, Justin Trudeau channels the charisma of his father. He aims to restore his father’s legacy as leader of the Liberal Party, which was under siege during 10 years of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper, Trudeau’s predecessor.
Harper’s relations with Obama were strained over various issues, notably the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the Obama administration rejected last year. The American ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, could not get a meeting with Harper or his Cabinet ministers for months.
But Trudeau’s election in October ushered in a new era for Canada’s politics that Trudeau, Heyman and others hope will help strengthen relations with the U.S.
“President Obama has only had nine state dinners, so he only has one or two a year. The fact that Canada is his 10th state dinner is a strong demonstration of the U.S.-Canada relationship and the importance to the president,” Heyman said in an interview. “These are two leaders who have very similar goals and philosophies.”
Sources say there’ll be multiple announcements after the leaders meet.
One could revolutionize the way Canadians and Americans enter each other’s country by allowing pre-border customs screening—in train stations, bus stations, on ships and off highways the same way it already occurs in several Canadian airports, with the goal being smoother travel through choke points.
The climate agreements will include components on the Arctic and commitments to reduce methane-gas emissions, and help developing countries cope with the effects with environmental change. Some third-party groups consulted on the trip also expect announcements on clean technology.
Thursday is the main meeting with President Barack Obama in the morning, followed by meetings with senior members of Congress and the state dinner in the evening.
He’ll conclude the three-day trip Friday when he lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, takes part in a question-and-answer session with university students and speaks to a think-tank audience.
Prime ministerial visits rarely raise a ripple in the U.S. capital but the arrival of this refugee-hugging, self-declared feminist subject of fawning profiles and a Vogue magazine spread is an exception to the rule.
Witness the Politico item, which features an anonymous senior Obama official declaring Trudeau her “new political crush,” saying, “Seriously, with his looks, heart, and mind, he’s dreamy.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, also noted the novelty of Americans paying attention to a Canadian politician.
“For a long time Canadians were a bit obsessed with President Obama,” she told a forum hosted by Politico late Tuesday. “This is just deserts.”
With files from Associated Press reporter Rob Gillies