OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau is embarking today on a week-long European sojourn that will culminate in a meeting of 20 of the world’s largest economies — one where he’ll test-drive a brand new foreign affairs policy aimed at charting Canada’s own course in the world.
Friday’s G20 meetings are shaping up as a showdown between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump.
In a speech last week to the German parliament that laid out her priorities for the meeting, Merkel — host of the two-day gathering in Hamburg — delivered a pointed critique of Trump’s now-infamous “America First” doctrine without ever once mentioning his name.
“Whoever believes that the world’s problems can be solved by isolationism and protectionism is mistaken,” Merkel said.
Her G20 agenda — stronger global co-operation to fight climate change and terrorism, and more robust international trade — cuts directly to the heart of her well-documented differences with Trump, a strategy some see as an effort to further isolate the U.S. president on the world stage.
Trump, for his part, has escalated the war of words with Merkel, using familiar rhetoric about a “massive trade deficit” the U.S. has with Germany and threats to slap import taxes on German-made cars.
Trump stood alone at the G7 meeting in Italy last month when the other six leaders, including Merkel and Trudeau, pushed him to stick with the Paris climate change accord, an international treaty aimed at keeping global warming to less than two degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
Trump demurred, refused to sign the Paris part of the G7 communique, and later made it official: the U.S. was out.
Since then, Merkel has been working hard to shore up support for the accord among other G20 nations. She met recently with leaders from China and India, travelled to Mexico and Argentina last month and sat down with European leaders just last week to develop a united front.
Into this mix steps Trudeau — more philosophically aligned with Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, France’s young and stylish new president, but lashed irrevokably to the U.S. through economic and geographic ties.
Trudeau’s approach to Trump has put him in a unique position at this gathering, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and senior adviser at the law firm Dentons.
“The rest of the world has been impressed with how Justin Trudeau has managed Trump,” Robertson said.
Trudeau pushed Trump on Paris at the G7, but was less critical and showed more patience than his European counterparts. He has since expressed his disappointment and sided with the other signatories, all the while insisting he’s not going to tell the president how to run his country.
At the same time, however, Canada has served notice that in an era of American protectionism, it will forge its own path. That declaration came in last month’s keynote foreign policy speech by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
That path includes pushing to strengthen the “postwar multilateral order” that includes such institutions as the United Nations, NATO and the World Trade Organization, Freeland made clear.
David Perry, a senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he’ll be watching to see how Canada turns that speech into action. “It will be curious to see if that has just been rhetoric, or if there has actually been some substance behind it,” he said.
While Merkel may want to isolate the current U.S. administration, America remains — Trump notwithstanding — too influential and too interconnected with the world for anyone to simply try to work without it entirely, he added.
“America matters no matter what anybody thinks,” Perry said. “You can’t work around them no matter what.”
It appears Trudeau isn’t the only leader who feels the same way.
Macron has been striking a more conciliatory posture, despite having been highly critical of the U.S. president in the wake of the G7 and the Paris withdrawal, Robertson noted. Just days ago he invited Trump to Paris for Bastille Day; Trump accepted.
Before landing in Germany, Trudeau will stop in Dublin to meet with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and talk up another international trade priority — the Canada-EU trade deal known as CETA.
Trade between Canada and Ireland was only about $2.4 billion in trade in 2016, but both countries desperately want the agreement to work — Canada as a hedge against U.S. protectionism, and Ireland as a hedge against an uncertain post-Brexit future.
The deal, finalized last year, has struggled to get ratification from all 28 European Union member states, particularly over provisions and protections for foreign investors. said Robertson: “We need them to help.”
From there, Trudeau will travel to Scotland for an audience with the Queen to mark Canada’s 150th birthday. The Queen, who is 91, was unable to travel to Canada to celebrate the occasion in Ottawa.
— Follow @mrabson on Twitter
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press