Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Canada as he looks to build momentum to get a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico passed.
The visit comes after President Donald Trump removed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, clearing a key roadblock to a North American trade pact Trump’s team negotiated last year.
The new trade deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was signed in November by Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico and is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. It needs approval from legislatures in the three nations. Several key U.S. lawmakers and Canada were threatening to reject the pact unless the tariffs were removed. Democrats now want stronger enforcement of labor standards and oppose a provision that protects drugmakers from competition.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said talks Thursday with Pence will focus on the ratification process.
Trudeau said he also intends to raise women’s rights in the U.S., where anti-abortion measures have been passed in several states. Pence is a well-known opponent of abortion.
“I’m very concerned with the situation around the backsliding of women’s rights that we’re seeing through conservative movements here in Canada, in the United States and around the world,” Trudeau said. “I will have a broad conversation with the vice president. Of course, that will come up, but we’re going to mostly focus on the ratification process of NAFTA.”
Trade lawyer Dan Ujczo, a Canada-U.S. specialist in Columbus, Ohio, said there is little doubt the new trade deal will be passed in Canada and Mexico but there is less than a 50 percent chance it gets passed in the U.S. in the summer. Ujczo, however, said he believes there is a lane to get it done and Pence’s Ottawa visit could help.
“The primary objective is to show back home in Washington that there is momentum for USMCA,” Ujczo said. “There is a stalemate between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue right now, and there is only about a couple of weeks or months in Washington to break this logjam.”
Trudeau’s government introduced the trade deal bill in Parliament this week.
Trudeau also is expected to bring up the plight of two detained Canadians in China. Beijing detained ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
During recent U.S.-China trade talks the detained Canadians were raised by the Americans directly with the Chinese after Trudeau pressed Trump. Some analysts have said the U.S. response to China’s arrests of the two Canadians has been muted.