The US and Canada’s complicated love story

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to patch up a US-Canada relationship that frayed under Trump. In fact, Biden's first phone call to a foreign leader after taking office was to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That makes sense, considering the two long-allied democracies share a continent and do some $700 billion in annual trade across the world's longest land border.

Biden and Trudeau — who was best buddies with Barack Obama, Biden's former boss — share views in many areas, from human rights and democracy promotion to, in principle, climate change. But a host of issues will make it hard to smooth things over completely. What are the main sticking points between Ottawa and Washington right now?


🛢Climate and energy🛢. One of Biden's first executive orders scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have carried oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf — a boon for Canada's oil industry, the country's number one export and crucial to its post-pandemic recovery. While Biden's move was consistent with his commitment to prioritize investment in clean energy, some in Ottawa felt snubbed by a lack of consultation.

Nixing the deal was a massive blow for Canada, which was relying on Keystone's infrastructure to boost its transportation capacity from landlocked Alberta province to lucrative energy markets in the Gulf Coast. "The US won't bear much of a cost… that will fall almost entirely on Canada," read a recent scathing editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail publication. To be sure, the US stands to lose roughly 3,900 — mostly temporary — jobs over a two-year period because of the axed deal. Still, Canada was on the losing side this time.

💰Trade equation💰. Biden's "Buy American'' executive order obligates US federal agencies to prioritize American bidders for US-based contracts worth more than $10,000. Importantly, it also raises the amount of US material a venture must include in order to be certified as "American-made."

While this protectionist approach to procurement is not new, Ottawa is worried that it will disrupt supply chains as it tries to boost its pandemic-battered economy (Canada's GDP shrank by 5.1 percent in 2020).

The implications of "Buy American" are clear: more American-made products means less foreign made ones. That's a blow for Canadian exports, 75 percent of which are sent to the US. As COVID rages on and the US-Canada border has remained closed for almost a year, these challenges are now more pronounced.

The US-China continuum. Like many other US allies looking towards a future with China as an economic superpower, Canada wants to maintain a robust alliance with a politically volatile US while also seeking to diversify economic relations with a country that could soon be the world's largest economy.

Indeed, Ottawa recently experienced the blowback of having its eggs in (mostly) one basket when the Trump administration slapped tariffs on Canadian aluminium, and demanded the grueling renegotiation of NAFTA. For Canadians, the recent policy volatility from one US administration to the next reinforces the need to make more friends, not fewer.

Chinese telecommunications has also become entangled in the US-Canada-China triangle. Canada has unofficially sidelined Chinese tech giant Huawei's 5G networks to appease Washington. Additionally, the arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (at the behest of the US for helping Huawei evade US sanctions on Iran) prompted Beijing to arbitrarily imprison two Canadian citizens. Clearly, the combative approach the US has taken towards China in recent years has been inescapable for middle-power Canada.

But China also presents Canada with new opportunities to cooperate on areas of mutual importance like climate change. These dynamics require a carefully crafted balancing act from a liberal pragmatist like Trudeau.

Looking ahead: Canada's longtime problem in Washington — lack of attention — will be profound under Biden. Trudeau and Trump both needed each other to pass a new trade pact, but Biden can make progress on many of his policy priorities (climate change, Iran, immigration) without help from the northern neighbor — and the Canadians know that their help is not crucial for America's new leader.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

GZERO World Clips
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal