You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Vice President Pence looks for do-over in trade deal, relationship with Canada

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2019-05-30 Maureen Groppe
Mike Pence et al. standing in front of a car © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence is aiming for a do-over with Canada. 

On Thursday, Pence will become the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Ottawa. The trip comes a year after President Donald Trump insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, creating one of the most difficult periods between the top allies in decades.

Pence’s aim is to push for passage of a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal reached by the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments last fall that must still be ratified by the countries.

However, the trip is also a chance for Pence to smooth over recent squabbles with a longstanding U.S. ally – a task that has become familiar for the vice president.

“I think Vice President Pence is in a great position to communicate to our allies, including Canada, how we’re willing to work together with them, instead of picking fights with them,” said Brian Riley, director of the National Taxpayers Union’s Free Trade Initiative.

Mike Pence et al. standing in front of a car: Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence emerge from Air Force Two, Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Delaware County Airport in Muncie, Ind. Pence is in Indiana to deliver the commencement address at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. © Nikos Frazier | The Star Press Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence emerge from Air Force Two, Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Delaware County Airport in Muncie, Ind. Pence is in Indiana to deliver the commencement address at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

Daniel Ujczo, an Ohio-based attorney who specializes in international trade, called it extraordinary that Trump hasn’t made an official visit to the government. President Barack Obama, for example, visited Ottawa in the first month of his presidency, making it his first foreign trip.

Trump has been to Canada, but only because Quebec hosted a Group of Seven meeting of industrialized nations last June. Just days before the summit, Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The trade dispute contributed to the acrimony of the summit, which Trump left early. And after Trudeau told reporters he would not be pushed around by the United States, Trump called the prime minister “very dishonest and weak.”

Some Canadians took the insults personally, prompting calls to boycott American products.

'Forget about it': Trump says he rejected a meeting with Canada that Canada says it never requested

Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau sitting in chairs: President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 8, 2018, in Charlevoix. © Evan Vucci, AP President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 8, 2018, in Charlevoix.

Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada and author of “The Art of Diplomacy,” said he will be watching for whether Pence takes this opportunity to acknowledge how Canadians viewed the last two years.

“If he just gets up and starts talking about trade…then I don’t think he’s addressing the elephant in the room,” Heyman said. “Somebody within the administration has to recognize the damage they’ve done.”

The administration took a major step towards restoring the relationship when it lifted the steel and aluminum tariffs earlier this month.

Pence quickly announced he would travel to Canada to meet with Trudeau on advancing “as swiftly as possible” the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico that Trump dubbed the USMCA.

For the past two months, Pence has been traveling around the United States urging congressional ratification. His stops have included heavy agriculture districts like that of Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. The vice president wants to target Democrats such as Peterson in the hopes that they might pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring the trade deal to the floor.

Peterson responded by criticizing Trump’s trade war with China, saying the USMCA would do little to stem the “massive losses” Minnesota farmers are suffering from Trump’s multifront fight.

Even in Pence’s home state of Indiana, the first stop on his tour, the vice president got an earful from farmers in April. Farm broadcaster Gary Truitt called Pence’s visit “an attempt to put lipstick on a pig.”

“There’s a lot of concern,” said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which has warned about the potentially “devastating effects” of recent tariff hikes on Chinese goods.

Indiana businesses want trade agreements with Canada – its largest export market – resolved as soon as possible, he said. And they’re not confident that Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods will lead to an improvement of the significant trade issues with China that Trump is hoping to address.

“While the administration is saying this will be short-term pain for long-term gain, that may be the case,” he said. “The concern is that, in reality, it may be long-term pain for uncertain gain.”

Mike Pence et al. standing around a bus: Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Dean Lamb and his wife Debbie at Lamb Farms in Lebanon on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Pence arrived in Indiana to speak with farmers just northwest of Indianapolis about the trade pact that the White House wants to replace NAFTA. © Matt Kryger/IndyStar Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Dean Lamb and his wife Debbie at Lamb Farms in Lebanon on Thursday, April 4, 2019. Pence arrived in Indiana to speak with farmers just northwest of Indianapolis about the trade pact that the White House wants to replace NAFTA.

Pence, whose hometown of Columbus, Indiana, is one of the most export-dependent metro areas in the country, was an ardent free trader as a member of Congress and Indiana’s governor.

Ujczo said Pence has been working behind the scenes throughout the USMCA discussions as a very capable catalyst for getting a deal.

“I think it’s a sign of progress that the vice president is going to Canada,” he said. “It’s also helping to repair some of the relationship. It was a rough negotiation on all sides.”

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, took note of Pence’s pro-trade background when telling reporters this month: “It’s important for Canadians to remember that Vice President Pence has been a strong and effective supporter of free trade.”

“He has been someone who has spoken out in the United States about the value of NAFTA for both Canadians and Americans,” Canadian outlets quoted Freeland as saying.

But while Freeland began the ratification process Monday, she noted that the United States must also do its part.

Trump has said he won’t work with Democratic leaders on shared priorities unless they abandon investigations into his presidency.

And the Globe and Mail newspaper told Canadians last week that the “increasingly personal attacks” between Trump and Pelosi “cast doubt on the already fraught chances of ratifying Mr. Trump’s signature trade agreement.” (After Trump last Thursday accused "crazy Nancy" of not being able to understand agreement, the speaker said she’d be happy to work with Trump on trade and other issues “when the `extremely stable genius’ starts acting more presidential.”)

Asked what Canadians make of such interactions, John Weekes – who was Canada’s chief negotiator on the original NAFTA deal – said they’ve gotten used to it. And he described the U.S.-Canada relationship as “a lot better than it was six months ago or even a year ago.”

Still, Weekes said, it’s probably smart that it’s Pence, and not Trump, who is going to Ottawa.

“I think it’s pretty clear he’s the right person to be talking to at this point in time,” Weekes said. “I would think very much the Canadian government welcomes this and the opportunity to have a discussion with the vice president and explore with him how the administration sees (USMCA) moving forward in the United States.”

Even if Pelosi and Trump can find a way to work together on issues, Democrats and some labor groups are demanding changes before the agreement can be approved. They want a mechanism in place to enforce the new labor rules Mexico is required to adopt as a way to protect workers’ rights.

“We’re still trying to get to `yes.’ We really are,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “We’re trying to put some mechanisms in this thing that can actually make it enforceable.”

John Murphy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for international policy, sees momentum behind the deal that should continue with Pence’s visit.

“I think it’s very important to the U.S.-Canada relationship," he said. "The tariffs were a point of heated dispute between the two countries. Now that we’re putting all of that behind us, this is an opportunity to reaffirm the partnership and show a commitment to moving forward with the agreement.”

More on U.S. trade deal with Mexico, Canada:

From NAFTA to USMCA: Key changes on trilateral trade pact

What is NAFTA? Seven things to know about the North American free trade pact

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vice President Pence looks for do-over in trade deal, relationship with Canada

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon