OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Peru Thursday evening for the first stop in a 10-day foreign tour, despite continuing questions at home about the fate of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
Trudeau took off from Ottawa at midday, but not before officials were dispatched to announce he would return to Ottawa on the weekend following the Summit of the Americas in Lima in order to sit down with the premiers of Alberta and B.C., who are at odds over the $7.4-billion expansion project.
Following that meeting Sunday, Trudeau will resume his itinerary, travelling Monday to France before heading to the United Kingdom for the Commonwealth summit.
Government officials earlier this week defended the prime minister’s decision to go ahead with the trip even as President Donald Trump pulled out of the Peru summit, ostensibly to prepare for military action on Syria.
“There are two important international summits taking place with dozens of other countries ? to talk about a whole slate of important issues, from economic growth to democracy to Venezuela to diversity,” one official said this week.
“In both of these summits, Canada is a major economic partner and plays an important role. And we believe in Canada playing an important role on the world stage and seizing opportunities within multilateral institutions.”
For Trudeau, whose recent foreign trips to China and India have not gone according to plan, the stakes are high.
At the Summit of the Americas, which plays host every four years to more than 30 countries from across the Western Hemisphere, there had been expectations of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico announcing some form of agreement in principle on a new North American Free Trade Agreement.
High-level discussions are still expected to take place, although on Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer cancelled his plans to be there, all but ensuring a lack of ceremonial trade surprises.
Instead, the meeting is likely to be dominated by the political crisis in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro has abandoned all pretence of democratic rule, cracking down on dissent in the face of economic calamity.
Canada has been an outspoken critic of Maduro and will no doubt join the chorus of condemnation in Peru while pushing for a tougher stand against corruption throughout the Americas.
Trudeau will also meet leaders from the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc comprising Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, all of which have free trade deals _ and close political relationships _ with Canada.
He’ll also get a rare chance to meet leaders from Latin America’s largest trading bloc, Mercosur, which counts powerhouse Brazil as well as Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay among its members.
With the fate of NAFTA up in the air and efforts afoot to diversify trade away from the U.S., Canada and Mercosur quietly held a first round of free trade talks in March.
Trudeau, however, can’t afford the sort of missteps that plagued him in China and India.
Observers will be watching to see how far he goes in opposing Trump’s controversial comments on Latin American immigrants, as well as in promoting western democratic values without coming across as arrogant or preachy.
Following two days of meetings in Peru, Trudeau will travel to Paris for his first official visit to France. There he will meet President Emmanuel Macron, address the National Assembly and hold several speaking engagements.
The visit will include a heavy emphasis on business, particularly in the context of the new Canada-EU free trade deal, but is also expected to include discussions on climate change, Russia, Syria, rising nationalism and Mali.
The prime minister will end his tour in London, where he will meet the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May before joining leaders from 52 other nations for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, where trade will top the agenda _ particularly in the face of Britain’s imminent departure from the EU and a natural impulse to look to its former colonies as new trade partners.
Brexit is also being seen as a potential catalyst for re-energizing the Commonwealth following years of questions about the organization’s importance.
The meeting, whose participants include a number of African and Asian countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is also expected to tackle concerns about human rights and democracy.
One issue close to Canada’s heart that won’t get individual billing during the London meeting, however, will be LGBTQ rights; member states have taken it off the agenda.