- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009


President Obama embarks on his first international trip Thursday, flying to Canada with a goal of fostering cooperation on curbing climate change and economic partnership amid global financial woes.

In advance of the quick day trip to Ottawa, Mr. Obama already is facing pressure from interest groups to take firm stands on environmental issues and trade.

But aides and Mr. Obama himself said they anticipate a friendly, get-to-know-you exchange. He and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are expected to hold a joint press conference at Parliament Hill on Thursday afternoon.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said green energy technology is a promising area “not just for bilateral but also trilateral cooperation,” noting his January meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon before the inauguration about his progressive vision for climate change efforts.

“What I think that offers is the possibility of a template that we can create between Canada, the United States and Mexico that is moving forcefully around these issues,” Mr. Obama told CBC.

Among those accompanying the president will be National Security Adviser James L. Jones; Lawrence H. Summers, the chairman of Mr. Obama’s National Economic Council and Carol M. Browner, White House energy czar.

“This is kind of a get-to-know-each-other, what are the issues we have to deal with summit,” said Paul Cellucci, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada who now focuses on energy issues for a law firm.

He said an easy positive newsmaker for the leaders would be the announcement of working groups on climate change.

Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, said Mr. Summers will be on hand to discuss “synergies and the opportunities” in the United States’ and Canada’s economic recovery plans.

“We want to make sure that we hit the ground running with a very important neighbor and ally,” he said.

Mr. McDonough said the Mexican president’s goal of 50 percent carbon emissions reductions by 2050 is “pretty ambitious” for a developing economy and said Mr. Obama believes the countries can be “real leaders on green energy, low-carbon energy opportunities here.”

A potential for tension is the “Buy America” clause inserted into the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that Mr. Obama signed Tuesday, a provision that was watered down in the final version of the package.

The president said Canadians, the United States’ largest trading partner, should not be “too concerned” because it’s important in an economic crisis that countries do not resort to ” ‘beggar thy neighbor’ policies, protectionist policies, they can end up further contracting world trade.”

Mr. Obama and his aides stressed that despite his 2008 campaign rhetoric in Rust Belt states hurt by job losses due to the North American Free Trade Agreement that he would renegotiate the trade act, now is not the time because of the decline in global trade.

“Canada is one of our most important trading partners, we rely on them heavily, there’s $1.5 billion worth of trade going back and forth every day between the two countries and that it is not in anybody’s interest to see that trade diminish,” he told CBC.

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