Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not attend talks in Washington, D.C. the week of July 6th, to inaugurate the start of the new North American trade deal, and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). While Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador committed to meeting the U.S. President in-person, Trudeau abstained and spoke with Obrador via telephone earlier in the week.
According to a statement from his office, Trudeau had to attend cabinet meetings and a parliament sitting in Ottawa. When asked about his attendance the previous week however, Trudeau was unsure about attending, citing concerns about possible U.S. aluminum tariffs and the coronavirus pandemic. “We wish the United States and Mexico well at Wednesday’s meeting,” spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said in an email statement.
A senior administration official confirmed that the Prime Minister’s multiple scheduling conflicts and Canadian travel regulations were a factor. The U.S.-Canada border is still closed for all non-essential travel, and all travelers must quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival to Canada. Trudeau would have had to abide by this policy to avoid backlash for violating his government’s rules. Trudeau’s government is also due on July 8th to unveil a budget update that includes virus-related spending.
Instead of meeting in-person about the new agreement, Trudeau asked to speak with Trump via phone. In a call to Obrador on July 6th, Trudeau “expressed regret” and in their subsequent discussion, they addressed the USMCA, the coronavirus pandemic and investments in renewable energy infrastructure. After the call, Obrador announced that Trudeau agreed to visit Mexico “as soon as possible.”
The USMCA trade deal comes a year after intense negotiations between the participating countries. From Mexico’s side, the deal was negotiated by the administration of Obrador’s predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto. The deal is set to protect workers’ rights in all three countries, which the President says would not have been done previously. “More investment will come,” Obrador says. “That’s my forecast as well in a time when we need to drive growth, to reactivate the economy.”
Though this is Obrador’s first trip outside of Mexico since taking office over a year ago, he faces potential criticism. Obrador has denounced Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric in the past, and his attendance of the meeting risks undermining himself. Obrador pledged to take the coronavirus test before he left his country and once he arrived in the U.S., if required. In addition to navigating political relations, each leader involved in this deal has had to navigate pandemic-related considerations.