The Cable

Mr. Kushner Goes to Calgary

As Trump turns up the heat on Mexico, Canada works to not get burned.


Traditionally, a new U.S. president makes one of his first foreign visits to Canada to signal the continued closeness U.S.-Canadian friendship. But President Donald Trump may have outsourced this trip to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law turned White House adviser.

On Monday, Reuters reported Kushner is planning a trip to Calgary this week to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Trudeau and his cabinet are holding a mini-retreat in Calgary, presumably to discuss how to deal with Kushner’s father-in-law boss, who has threatened to tear up or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that dictates much of the Canada-U.S. trade relationship. On Monday morning, Trump issued an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with its Asian allies. NAFTA, the trilateral free trade deal between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, could be next.

Deploying Kushner may foreshadow Trump’s reliance on his closest cadre of White House advisers to conduct foreign policy. It might also suggest that countries will be forced to speak the language of bilateral trade if they want to speak with Trump’s America.

For example: Canadian officials fear that their country may end up as collateral damage in Trump’s toughened stance on Mexico. Trump, who will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto next week, repeatedly accused Mexico of taking economic advantage of the United States.

And so the Trudeau team may try to convince the Trump team that America’s issues are not with Canada, and that a close bilateral trade relationship benefits both Canadian and American piggy banks. Indeed, in 2015, Canada was the United States’ second largest trade partner in the world; bilateral trade that year totaled $662.7 billion.

Mexico, in turn, may become collateral damage in Canada’s attempts to preserve its trade relationship with the United States under Trump, who has vowed to renegotiate U.S. trade deals around the world bilaterally to benefit Americans more. If Trudeau and team’s talks with Kushner go well, Canada may be first on that list; Canada has already hinted it would be willing to work around NAFTA for a bilateral deal.

Trudeau has his own headaches at home without losing U.S.-Canada trade. He is under investigation for a vacation he took on the private island of billionaire Aga Khan, which may have violated Canadian conflict of interest laws.

Perhaps Trudeau and Kushner can bond over conflicts of interest.

Update, Jan. 24 2017, 10:13 am ET: While Canada is still expected to try to avoid becoming collateral damage, possibly by securing a bilateral deal, it will not do so with Kushner this week. Canadian officials updated Reuters that he would not be making the trip to Calgary after all.

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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