SAN FRANCISCO — With the fireworks and formalities done, it’s time for delegates at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to get down to business.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will sit down today for one-on-one meetings with a coterie of Pacific Rim leaders in between high-level APEC plenary sessions.
U.S. President Joe Biden rattled off a list of the challenges during Wednesday’s opening reception, including confronting the potential rewards and risks of artificial intelligence.
The leaders will also talk about how to reinforce and streamline modern-day supply chains, all the while finding workable solutions to the climate crisis.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng says Canada will be especially focused on creating the conditions for economic growth across the Pacific Rim.
Ng says businesses both in Canada and abroad are looking for a level of certainty that will allow them to invest with confidence in growing their international trade.
“They are here looking to grow their business and expand in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indo-Pacific region,” Ng said Wednesday as the summit got underway in earnest.
“What do businesses tell me? Having rules that they know of, that they can count on, creates a predictable business environment for them to operate in. And that is what they look to their governments to do.”
Canada would welcome the chance to join the U.S.-led trade initiative known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, but the work to expand trade in the region is already well underway, Ng said.
It’s probably just as well: trade agreements are not politically popular in the U.S. right now, and Congress is gun-shy with a critical election looming on the horizon next year.
The White House appears to have hit pause on the framework, which countries like Japan had hoped would allow the U.S. to finally join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Canada is already an enthusiastic partner in that deal, a salvaged version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that former U.S. president Donald Trump abandoned in 2017, Ng noted.
“We have trading relationships, and we are doing trade, with many of these economies, including with the United States,” she said.
“So we welcome the opportunity to join (IPEF) when that time is right. But quite candidly, we’re already doing the work.”
Leaders in San Francisco will also be able to focus more clearly on their objectives now that one of the summit’s major distractions is out of the way: Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders met for more than four hours on Wednesday, and agreed to start defrosting a relationship that’s been on ice for much of the last 12 months.
Their militaries will resume routine communications, a breakdown that began with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022, but which showed serious repercussions earlier this year when a Chinese spy balloon drifted through North American airspace.
“Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed,” Xi told Biden.
The U.S. president told Xi: “I think it’s paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunications. We have to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”
Trudeau, meanwhile, spent Wednesday focusing on old friendships and newfangled paths to affordability.
The warmth was palpable when he met with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a kindred liberal spirit whose efforts to combat climate change have made him a prominent and valuable ally.
“I think you gave me these socks last time,” a visibly relaxed Trudeau told his old friend, showing off the embroidered image of the Golden Gate Bridge that adorned his ankles.
“You’re still doing those socks,” said Newsom, who appeared genuinely taken aback. “Have you ever been caught with black socks on?”
Trudeau later visited a sprawling produce distribution centre where he met with educators, government officials and leaders from the tech and agri-food to talk about ways to confront the affordability crisis.
He surveyed a display of U.S. and homegrown produce, including Canadian mushrooms and B.C. potatoes, before sitting down to talk about how to keep a healthy lifestyle affordable for Canadians and their families.
“People are challenged right now on a whole bunch of different levels,” Trudeau said, citing inflation and higher interest rates, a housing shortage and the looming spectres of climate change and global conflict.
“There are a lot of reasons people get anxious — and when people get anxious, they tend to really get pessimistic and withdraw from engaging in our democracy and in the positive future we’re trying to build,” he said.
“Families that can’t feed their kids, can’t put food on the table, lead to instability and insecurity in every other part of our lives.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press