U.S. Summit ‘Road Map’ Focuses on Mutual Interests, Steers Clear of Canadian Potholes

February 23, 2021 Updated: February 23, 2021

WASHINGTON—The White House did not acknowledge Canada’s own wish list for President Joe Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, focusing instead Tuesday on areas of “shared vision” and “mutual concern.”

The U.S. administration’s “road map” for enhanced co-operation between the two countries lays out priorities for Biden’s first bilateral meeting as president—a route that steers well clear of potential potholes.

“The road map is a blueprint for our whole-of-government relationship, based on our shared values and commitment to work in partnership on areas of mutual concern,” the White House said.

It lays out six priority areas, including battling the pandemic, rebuilding the economy “on both sides of the border,” and a “high-level climate ministerial” meeting to align efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

It also mentions social diversity and inclusion, expanded co-operation on continental defence and a modernized NORAD, and restoring a collective commitment to global institutions like NATO and the World Trade Organization.

The section on “Building Back Better”—a turn of phrase from Biden’s presidential campaign that’s also popular with the Trudeau government—pays tribute to Liberal election rhetoric as well, promising a vision “that strengthens the middle class and creates more opportunities for hard-working people to join it.”

A number of Canada’s explicit priorities, including access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from China or securing an exemption to Buy American, are conspicuously absent.

So too is any mention of Keystone XL, the on-again, off-again cross-border pipeline expansion Biden cancelled with the stroke of his presidential pen on his first day in office.

Experts want Ottawa to push the U.S. hard to exempt Canada from Buy American, Biden’s suite of protectionist measures to ensure infrastructure spending prioritizes American businesses.

No immediate changes to that regime are on the horizon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

“He signed an executive order; we’re of course evaluating procurement components of that, but no changes anticipated.”

Trudeau is nonetheless expected to ask for fewer restrictions on U.S. vaccine exports, since Canada has been squeezed by production problems in Europe, and for more help in bringing Spavor and Kovrig home.

They were detained in an apparent act of retaliation after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on U.S. charges of violating sanctions on Iran.

On the two Michaels, Psaki would only say, “The prime minister will bring up whatever he would like to bring up, as is true of any bilateral meeting.”

The White House also says the two plan to resurrect the North American Leaders’ Summit—a trilateral meeting of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, more commonly known as the “Three Amigos” summit, which hasn’t been convened since 2016.

By James McCarten