'Big things can get done in Canada,' Trudeau tells business leaders
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, April 13, 2018 4:04AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 13, 2018 5:16PM EDT
LIMA, Peru -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will look for some common ground on North American free trade talks when he meet with Mexico's president Friday on the sidelines of a major international summit in Peru's capital.
The face-to-face comes after Trudeau, whose government is struggling with a pipeline crisis at home, pitched Canada as a great place to invest by telling hundreds of business leaders "that big things can get done in Canada."
The sit-down with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is their first face-to-face since November, and comes at a critical time as Canada, Mexico and the U.S. look for a NAFTA breakthrough.
It also offers Trudeau an opportunity to take stock of Mexico's position -- and perhaps share strategies -- before the prime minister heads into a meeting with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on Saturday.
Pence is in Peru instead of U.S. President Donald Trump, who was supposed to attend but decided to stay home and said earlier this week that he was prepared to "renegotiate forever" to get a good NAFTA deal.
Trudeau's meetings with Pena Nieto and Pence come as the three are attending the Summit of the Americas, which is held every four years and brings together leaders from across the Western Hemisphere.
The prime minister started his day Thursday by meeting Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra, who served as Peru's ambassador to Canada before the previous president was forced to resign over a scandal last month.
Trudeau then delivered a 10-minute address to business leaders from across the Americas encouraging them to invest in Canada, noting that the country has free trade agreements with dozens of countries around the world.
More than half the countries with which Canada has free trade agreements are in the Americas, Trudeau said, and the hope is to add a deal with Latin America's largest trading bloc, Mercosur, to that tally.
"Even in this age where the value of trade is being questioned by some, we have successfully negotiated landmark agreements with Europe and with Asia," Trudeau added as he took a subtle shot at protectionists like Trump.
"It is also why we are sending a clear signal to the international investment community that big things can get done in Canada."
The prime minister went on to emphasize Canada's skilled labour force, low unemployment and debt-to-GDP ratio, recent federal investments in infrastructure and a new investment agency as proof that Canada is open for business.
The message appeared well received, and Kenneth Frankel, president of the Canadian Council for the Americas, said the region offers a natural opportunity for Canada -- particularly as it looks for a northern partner who isn't Trump.
Yet Siegfriend Kiefer, president of Calgary-based engineering firm Atco Ltd., said Latin American leaders have told him they need massive new investments in infrastructure to grow their economies first.
On that front, Canada's own record on infrastructure and "national-interest projects" has room for improvement, Kiefer said, including Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, which is the subject of a fierce Alberta-B.C. battle.
"The business community is generally looking for proof in the pudding," he said.
"The public unrest relative to some of these projects is really what you're trying to deal with. And that in my mind deals with how do you gain the trust of the people of the country that you have looked at the merits of the project objectively."
Trudeau's day also included hosting a lunch with representatives from the 15-country Caribbean Community, where he announced $25 million in new funding to help the region deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes.
The prime minister is also scheduled to meet with Chilean President Sebastien Pinera, who took office in March and whose country is an important political and trade partner with Canada.