Obama North of the Border

By Dan Froomkin
12:49 PM ET, 02/19/2009

President Obama is spending seven hours in Canada today, making his first international visit to our neighbor to the north.

Gone -- amid the donning of his executive authority and the convulsions of a global financial crisis -- is some of his tough talk from the campaign about renegotiating parts of NAFTA.

Ross Colvin and Jeff Mason write for Reuters: "Obama will seek to quell Canadian concerns about U.S. protectionism when he makes his first foreign trip as president on Thursday to the United States' biggest trading partner and energy supplier...

"Trade will dominate the discussions, and Harper has said he will seek assurances that the 'Buy American' clause in the $787 billion U.S. economic recovery package signed by Obama this week will not discriminate against firms in Canada, which sends about 75 percent of its exports to the United States.

"U.S. officials, in turn, have said Obama will seek to allay those fears. The president said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation this week that Canadians should not be concerned, noting that history showed that 'beggar thy neighbor' protectionist policies could backfire....

"Canada is also alarmed by Obama's stated desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, to which Canada, the United States and Mexico are signatories, fearing that it could lead to new tariff barriers. Obama has said he wants to strengthen environmental and labor provisions.

"U.S. administration officials this week sought to downplay the issue, saying that while Obama would raise it in his talks with Harper, the fragile state of the world economy meant he would not be pushing hard for NAFTA to be re-examined now."

Chris Cillizza blogs for The Washington Post with this flashback: "In the runup to the Ohio primary on March 5, 2008, Obama was asked at a debate in Cleveland about his position on NAFTA. 'We should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced,' he said at the time."

Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post that the environment will also be a major topic: "Environmental groups are pushing Obama to seek restrictions on tar sands oil, a dirtier form of oil that contributes about half of the oil imported into the United States from Canada."

And David Jackson writes for USA Today that Obama has "plans to discuss the two nations' roles in curbing the worsening fighting in Afghanistan....

"Canada has 2,830 troops in Afghanistan and has lost 108 in the war that started in October 2001. Obama said he wants Canadian help with a new approach to the war that includes more diplomacy and economic assistance."

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