Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brief trip to Washington culminates today with the first Three Amigos summit in more than five years — and signs suggest there could be some tense moments during the long-awaited meeting.
The trilateral meeting between the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico — officially known as the North American Leaders’ Summit — is scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m. ET at the White House.
Summits between the three nations have historically been criticized for favouring symbolism over substance, but this year’s edition comes as Canada makes an aggressive push against one of U.S. President Joe Biden’s signature protectionist policies.
U.S. lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a nearly $2 trillion US infrastructure bill, which as it stands contains a new electric vehicle incentive that Ottawa says could wreak havoc on Canada’s auto sector and violate the new NAFTA.
The proposed incentive would eventually give American buyers a US $12,500 rebate on the purchase of new EVs, but only if the vehicles are produced in the United States.
The Canadian government argues that the incentive threatens decades of co-operation between the two nations in the auto sector and could lead to job losses on both sides of the border. Mexico also opposes the plan.
EV incentive could become ‘dominant’ issue: Freeland
During a Wednesday evening news conference in Washington, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland indicated that fighting the EV incentive will remain her government’s top priority during its time in Washington.
“The way they have formulated this incentive really, really has the potential to become the dominant issue in our bilateral relationship,” Freeland said.
“The EV incentives — as they are currently formulated — we are certain are a violation of the new NAFTA agreement.”
In private meetings so far this week, Trudeau has also been working to dissuade lawmakers from adopting the plan.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Trudeau has noted that Biden’s proposal amounts to a greater penalty to the Canadian auto sector than former president Donald Trump’s threat of a 25 per cent tax on Canadian cars.
Pipelines and vaccines also on the agenda
Trudeau is also expected to raise concerns about the future of the Line 5 pipeline, which transports oil to Eastern Canada.
Michigan is trying to shut down a portion of the line that runs under the Great Lakes. Canada wants to keep the pipeline flowing and recently invoked a 1977 treaty in its bid to preserve the status quo.
A senior U.S administration official declined to discuss details about Line 5 during a call with reporters on Wednesday, citing the recently invoked treaty.
“What I will say is the president and the prime minister have an excellent relationship. They’ve known each other for a very long time, and we’re prepared to discuss anything the prime minister is ready to raise,” the official said.
There are also expectations that Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will make an announcement about sharing COVID-19 vaccine doses that were donated by the United States. They plan to share those doses with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the senior official said.
It will be Trudeau’s first in-person meeting with López Obrador, who has been Mexico’s president since December 2018.
The leaders of North America’s largest nations will have gone 1,968 days since their last trilateral meeting. Trump spurned the summit during his presidency.