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Trump casts pall over PM’s Latin American trip

By Chantal HÉbert      

The president-elect poses a greater threat to Harper's trade and foreign policy legacy than Trudeau ever did.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Cuban President Raúl Castro in Cuba during Mr. Trudeau's visit this week. Photograph courtesy of the PMO

MONTREAL—One can run but not hide from the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is finding that out first-hand this week as his first trip outside Canada since the American election turns into a damage assessment mission.

It is a testimony to the magnitude of the shift in the tectonic plates brought about by the United States outcome that there is not an international forum and precious few of the world’s capitals that are not scrambling to pick up the post-election pieces.

The questions raised by the imminent changing of the guard at the White House go well beyond the narrow scope of whether progressive governments such as Trudeau’s can find productive common ground with a conservative president.

Cuba was the first stop on the PM’s itinerary this week. Until the U.S. vote, the prime minister might have expected to find some lingering buzz from President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island this spring. It was part of a thaw in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.

But in Havana, excitement has given way to trepidation. Uncertainty as to whether Trump will follow up on his predecessor’s overtures has replaced momentum. On the campaign trail, the president-elect blasted Obama’s visit to Cuba.

Later this week Trudeau will land in Peru for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Twelve of the organization’s member countries recently negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But the American election has sapped the impetus for the ratification of the massive free trade agreement. Last week, Obama formally abandoned plans to submit the deal to Congress for ratification before the end of his term in January. Trump wants no part of the TPP.

The president-elect’s shadow loomed large over this week’s international climate change summit (COP22) in Morocco. In theory, its participants had good reasons to celebrate. Propelled by international support, the global climate agreement struck in Paris last year has come into effect years earlier than expected.

The accord’s signatories, including Canada, argue that the changing of the guard in the White House will not diminish the political will to act in concert on climate change. Time will tell whether they are whistling past the graveyard of the Paris accord.

A pivotal part of the infrastructure of the accord was an alliance between China and the U.S. They jointly agreed to a reduction in their carbon emissions. But Trump is not expected to hold to the American side of the bargain.

On the heels of the U.S. election, Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s intention to lead a military deployment in Latvia as part of NATO’s latest strategy to deter Russia. In Moscow, Trump’s victory has been interpreted as an encouraging sign that could lead to NATO being forced to reconsider the deployment.

A bit more than a week after Trump’s victory, it has already become conventional wisdom that his installation in the White House will at least complicate, if not derail, Trudeau’s Liberal agenda. There is truth in that.

But more than a few policy tenets close to the heart of past Conservative governments are equally on the line. Think of NAFTA—the brainchild of Brian Mulroney’s Tory governments—but also of the moribund TPP. It was negotiated on the watch of the previous federal government. The final deal was arrived at in the heat of the last federal campaign.

Under Stephen Harper, Canada took credit for playing host to the secret meetings that led to the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement.

The Conservatives set the climate change targets that Trudeau is seeking to achieve as part of the obligations Canada contracted under the Paris agreement.

One of the distinguishing features of Harper’s foreign policy doctrine was his strong stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military goals. Trudeau’s Latvia deployment fits into that doctrine, as does the ratification by the Liberals of the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement initially negotiated under the Conservatives.

And then, what would Harper—as a staunch champion of Israel—have made of the anti-Semitic undertones of some of the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign?

On Wednesday, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose offered her caucus a few positive thoughts about Trump’s victory. But when all is said and done, the president-elect poses a greater threat to Harper’s trade and foreign policy legacy than Trudeau ever did.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer for The Toronto Star. This column was first released on Nov. 17.

The Hill Times

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