U.S. President Barack Obama is embarking on an international full-court press to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, so how long can Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answer with a non-committal smile?
The two leaders have their first official one-on-one meeting on Thursday in Manila, and the U.S. President is in a legacy campaign. He is trying to get his partners in the 12-nation TPP to sing its praises, loudly, as he prepares to take the deal to the U.S. Congress for ratification.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau are at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, but the U.S. President is going to continue on to Malaysia. The White House made it clear he is on a mission for the TPP – a deal he wants ratified before he leaves office, and that he sees as key to the U.S. role in Asia. "Today, we're going to discuss the road ahead to ensure that TPP is enacted in each of our countries as swiftly as possible," Mr. Obama said in Manila.
Mr. Trudeau, meanwhile, has ragged the puck. He has promised to have it debated in Parliament. He has smiled and said he's pro-trade. But has never definitively endorsed the TPP, let alone promised to ratify it. That puts him at odds with Mr. Obama's push.
But Mr. Trudeau has good reason, in political terms, to delay, waiting to see whether the U.S. Congress will approve the deal. He may have to give some warmer signals, but he can stay uncommitted for some time.
It is not that Mr. Trudeau wants to reject it. There is every sign he wants to ratify it. But when the deal was concluded during the election campaign, he put off an endorsement: The text was not public, and more importantly, it was causing anxiety for groups whose votes mattered, such as dairy farmers and auto workers. But now that the text is out and the election is behind him, he still has little to gain from rushing.
That is not because of his promise to debate it. He is not planning to allow a free vote on the deal, so the debate will not be decisive. Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland encouraged Canadians to read the intricate, 6,000-page treaty. "It's the most complex trade agreement in existence," Toronto trade lawyer Larry Herman said.
But there are still some qualms within Canada that Mr. Trudeau would have to ease before he ratifies the TPP, and no need to commit now if it might be scuttled in the United States.
The TPP is essentially a take-it-or-leave it deal, because the other 11 nations will not accept tinkering. If the U.S. Congress ratifies it, Mr. Trudeau faces a choice between ratifying it or seeing Canada left out of the new order for Asia-Pacific trade.
But it might not get through Congress. Many Democrats mistrust it, and Hillary Clinton, the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, does not back it. Republican front-runner Donald Trump calls it a "disaster."
"If it doesn't fly in Washington, there's no way Canada should ratify it," Mr. Herman said. In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau's government is working on qualms at home.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper offered $4.3-billion in compensation to dairy farmers over 15 years, but that was a campaign promise. Ms. Freeland refused to say if the Liberals would do the same.
Politically, the auto sector is a bigger deal for the Liberals, because more of their seats are in the suburban Ontario communities where the manufacturers are. The government is scrambling to come up with a package to persuade auto workers their jobs are not doomed – Mr. Trudeau mandated three ministers to prepare it.
Flavio Volpe, the president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, said his organization wants the government to focus real effort on attracting assembly plants to Canada, because if the assembly lines are here, more parts will be sold here. In practice, that means big money for the bidding war for car plants.
Politically, those measures to mollify domestic concerns come first. Of course, Mr. Trudeau's TPP partners will expect him to sound supportive. Mr. Trudeau may have to slide along the scale of public support – he can embrace the goals of the TPP, or endorse the principles, for example. But when it comes to commitment, he can wait for the Americans to go first.