Trudeau and Obama set to focus on climate change, border issues

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a busy day and glamorous night ahead in Washington, with agreements on climate change and the border expected to be announced with President Barack Obama before the two put on their tuxes and enjoy a lavish dinner at the White House.

Trudeau arrived in the U.S. capital early Wednesday evening and began by attending a reception at the Renwick Gallery, across the street from the White House. The event, hosted by the think-tank Canada 2020, was a hot ticket. Organizers were flooded with requests to be put on the guest list.

His first full day of the state visit is set to kick off with an official welcoming ceremony on the White House south lawn. Trudeau and Obama will make remarks to hundreds of invited guests and will conduct a ceremonial inspection of U.S. troops.

Then the two leaders get down to work and meet in the Oval Office, while Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and First Lady Michelle Obama attend an event related to Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative.

Trudeau and Obama will follow their bilateral meeting with a joint news conference in the Rose Garden, just outside the Oval Office.

Climate change in Arctic

The subjects of their discussions have already been telegraphed by officials in Ottawa and Washington.

Climate change and its effect on the Arctic will be a primary focus, and the leaders are expected to announce a few areas of joint co-operation.

Todd Stern, the White House special envoy for climate change, told reporters in a call Tuesday those areas will include working together to reduce emissions. He specifically mentioned the oil and gas sector, heavy-duty vehicles and power infrastructure.


A Canadian flag flutters on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House in Washington March 7. Preparations are underway for the official state visit of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In the oil and gas sector, he said one potential commitment is a goal to reduce methane emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025.

The two countries will talk about amending the Montreal Protocol to set a goal of reducing emissions from hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 90 gigatons by 2050. Stern said there is also co-operation on adopting a measure through the International Civil Aviation Organization, based in Montreal, aimed at making emissions from the aviation sector neutral starting in 2020.

When it comes to the Arctic, talks will focus on reducing methane emissions and what's known as black carbon, on how to help communities respond to the impacts of climate change, and on promoting the scientific capacity to measure its effects.

The Canada and the U.S are also expected to work together to spread the word globally about how climate change is affecting the Arctic faster and more severely than most other parts of the world.

Softwood lumber drags on

"There's a kind of canary-in-the-coal-mine quality to the Arctic, and it's important to let people around the world know what's going on there and the impacts there, which will, in turn, have impacts around the world," said Stern.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, the MP for Nunavut, are on the trip with Trudeau, along with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

On Freeland's file, the ongoing softwood lumber trade issue is expected to come up, but no major announcements on a new agreement are likely. Trudeau raised it with Obama when they first met last year in Manila, and Freeland said in advance of the trip that her department is working hard to show progress.

The last deal, brokered by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2006, expired last year. Beginning in October, U.S. companies can start launching lawsuits and trade complaints with international tribunals. There is more eagerness on the Canadian side of the border than the American one to reach a new agreement.

White House officials say they welcome Canada's interest and are open to exploring all options, but that the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is at the top of their list of trade issues to talk about Thursday.

New border measures expected

The border, and the movement of people and goods across it, is the other main issue where Trudeau and Obama are expected to make news. There are likely to be developments on how Canada and the U.S. share data on people exiting and entering the two countries, something that has raised concern with Canada's privacy commissioner, and on pre-clearance for goods going across the border.

Efforts to reduce red tape have been made for years, Harper and Obama launched the Beyond the Border initiative, but many of its concepts haven't yet been implemented. Some of the measures require legislation.

Former deputy prime minister John Manley, now chief executive of the Business Council of Canada, said in an interview there is still a lot of work to do.

"In my view, we still have a 19th century border," said Manley.

Implementing more preclearance facilities and trusted traveller and trusted trader programs will go a long way to improving business efficiency, said Manley.

Maple-cured salmon

"Treat the border as an opportunity, rather than using it as a barrier," he said.

After meeting with Obama at the White House, Trudeau will eat lunch at the State Department with Secretary of State John Kerry and more than 200 guests. Canadian Spike Mendelsohn, a chef in Washington who owns several restaurants, will serve salmon cured with maple.

The Trudeaus will then be served another gourmet meal at the state dinner being thrown in their honour at the White House. The red carpet will be rolled out, down the front steps of the White House, for the lavish affair.

This is the first official state visit for a Canadian prime minister in 19 years and comes as Trudeau is just months into his mandate while Obama is winding his down.

White House officials say the two leaders have a lot in common and are developing a "special relationship," but at this time next year, someone else will be occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Trudeau will have to start anew with his U.S. counterpart.

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