After meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump signalled his desire to strengthen the bilateral-trading relationship, as the two leaders committed to improved energy trade and singled out the Keystone XL pipeline as an important infrastructure project.
Mr. Trudeau visited Washington on Monday with a cadre of cabinet ministers and several female business executives who participated in a roundtable on women entrepreneurs and business leaders. At every opportunity, the Canadians stressed the highly integrated nature of the two economies and the need for an open border.
In their joint statement, Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau noted that U.S.-Canadian energy and the environment are "inextricably linked" and that they are committed to "further improving our ties" in those areas.
"We have built the world's largest energy trading relationship," the statement said. "We share the goals of energy security, a robust and secure energy grid, and a strong and resilient energy infrastructure that contributes to energy efficiency in both countries. …
"As the process continues for the Keystone XL pipeline, we remain committed to moving forward on energy-infrastructure projects that will create jobs while respecting the environment," it added. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Trudeau mentioned climate-change policies, though their statement did speak of co-operating on "clean energy."
Like other exporters, Canadian oil and gas producers have worried about protectionist rhetoric employed by Mr. Trump, and a border adjustment proposal in Congress that could effectively place an import tax on goods entering the U.S. market.
In a joint news conference, Mr. Trump indicated that Canada is not the target when he complains about the unfairness of the North American free-trade agreement and that he is aiming for a "stronger trading relationship between the United States and Canada."
However, he did suggest there would be some "tweaking" of the deal as it relates to Canada-U.S. trade, and he did not address the threat of a border adjustment levy or Buy America policies that can discriminate against Canadian exporters. When Mr. Trump revived the Keystone XL project last month, he also said he wanted American steel to be used for the pipeline and directed his Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross to prepare a plan to maximize the use of U.S.-sourced steel in all pipeline projects.
After having the project rejected by former president Barack Obama, TransCanada Corp. has re-applied for approval of the Keystone XL line, which would deliver Alberta oil sands crude to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. The President ordered the review to be expedited.
The Alberta-based companies fear they could face new market-access problems in what is currently virtually their sole export market. Several analysts have warned of a dire impact on the oil and gas sector if the proposed border adjustment levy was enacted.
"Such fears were wildly overblown in the first place, at least from the oil-industry perspective," said Robert Johnston, president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk firm in Washington. Eurasia Group has argued that the U.S. government was unlikely to impose any measures that would drive up energy costs or impede imports from Canada.
Still, the industry welcomed Mr. Trump's reassuring statements, said Terry Abel, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. "They tend to echo the long history we've had with a very strong, mutually beneficial trade relationship," he said.
Mr. Trudeau had one key message for the President: that liberalized, crossborder U.S. trade benefits American middle-class workers as much as it does Canadian. One statistic was used to tell that story: that Canada is the most important export market for 35 states. It is a figure that was repeated by Mr. Trump at the news conference and even by CNN anchors covering the visit.
"Millions of good middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on this partnership," Mr. Trudeau said.
In addition to oil and gas producers, manufacturers worry about maintaining their access to the American market, and whether they'll be hit by new Republican protectionism – arising from the White House or Congress.
"It's early days but [the meeting] was very encouraging," said Dennis Darby, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association. He said the two sides appeared to make progress in a some specific areas, including expedited customs clearings for goods moving across the border, and harmonizing regulations.
"We'll have our work cut out for us [in beating back protectionist measures] but this is a way better start than many predicted," he said.