Canada’s foreign affairs minister heads to Washington amid trade feud with Trump


Canada’s foreign affairs minister may attract a bigger crowd than she’s used to during her two-day trip to Washington.


Today marks the first visit by a high-profile minister to the United States since President Donald Trump launched his blistering attacks against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canadians at large. 

Chrystia Freeland has a series of meetings with U.S. lawmakers, but she’s hoping to make waves with a speech she will deliver at an awards gala tonight. 

Freeland has been named Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy magazine, and she will give an acceptance speech in front of ambassadors, journalists and likely some lawmakers.

Sources are billing the event as a followup to the speech she delivered in the House of Commons last year, where she declared Canada would step up on the international stage, as the U.S. abandons its traditional position and turns inward. 

While she is not expected to lash out at the Trump administration on American soil, she will be promoting Canada’s support for multilateralism, and its opposition to the tariffs recently imposed by the U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G7 leaders summit in La Malbaie, Que., on June 8. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Trump placed tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union on June 1.

The decision has frustrated G7 leaders, who spent the recent summit in Charlevoix, Que., lobbying the president to reverse his policy.

Renewed charm offensive

Freeland will pick up Canada’s lobbying efforts during this visit to D.C.

Although she is still trying to confirm a meeting with her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, she will be meeting with members of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee.

That meeting will be held behind closed doors, but her anti-tariff, pro-NAFTA message will be welcomed by the chair of the committee, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who personally extended the invitation to Freeland. 

Corker has called on Trump to kill the tariffs, and even looked for legislative ways he could limit the president’s decision-making power on trade related issues.

His efforts were shut down, but frustration remains among some Republicans. 

Canada is looking to re-establish respectful trade talks with the U.S., in the hopes of eventually seeing these tariffs lifted.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation says Ottawa has two goals in the short term: to reassure Canadians and business leaders during this time of crisis; and to re-energize trade discussions, including NAFTA negotiations.

There are no formal plans for chief negotiators from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to meet face-to-face any time soon.

NAFTA talks broke down last month over an American demand for a so-called “sunset clause.”

The provision would automatically end NAFTA in five years, unless all three countries agreed to remain in the pact.

Canada and Mexico both oppose the provision, since it would create investment instability. 

Building opposition support

When Freeland returns to Canada on Thursday, she will be looking for additional support at home.

She will be flying to Toronto in the afternoon, to meet with Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford.

It will be Freeland’s first meeting with Ford since the Progressive Conservative leader won the provincial election last week. 

Ford has already publicly declared his support to the Trudeau government on this issue, but Ottawa is looking to spread that message at every opportunity.