Obama and Trudeau summit

What will Trudeau and Obama get done at their meeting in March?

John Ibbitson The Globe and Mail

Justin Trudeau’s state visit to Washington March 10 will be impressively ceremonial, with the Prime Minister and President Barack Obama walking side by side in black tie into a glittering room, accompanied by their wives. But whether anything actually gets done during the visit depends on how badly the new Liberal government wants action on the border question, and how willing Mr. Obama is to oblige.

By the time of the visit, the 44th President will be a pretty lame duck, with the election of his successor less than eight months away. There is little or nothing he will be able to get through the Republican-controlled Congress. But Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who specializes in international relations, believes there is one key area where Mr. Obama could act on his own. “A preclearance agreement is certainly within his grasp,” Mr. Robertson said Tuesday . “There’s a deal there to be fixed, and it would certainly be in our interest.”

“Preclearance” is an initiative that came out of the Beyond the Border agreement signed in 2011 between Mr. Obama and then-prime minister Stephen Harper. The accord was intended to improve continental security while easing congestion at the Canada-U.S. border. Under that accord, goods entering either Canada or the United States could be jointly inspected and cleared, and could then cross the Canada-U.S. border without further inspection.

But the Department of Homeland Security has been blocking implementation, Mr. Robertson said. If the Trudeau team really wanted to see action on this file, they could lay the groundwork over the coming months that could lead to a March 10 announcement on new plans to advance the agenda on implementing preclearance protocols. If, that is, Mr. Obama is willing.

“He could do that by simply giving the regulatory guidance to the Department of Homeland Security,” said Mr. Robertson. “We could move ahead on this.”

Adam Barratt, a spokesman for the Department of Global Affairs, said that the Liberal government is committed to making “substantial progress” in reducing impediments to trade and commerce. “To this end, we will be taking a close look at files, such as preclearance, that could facilitate the movement of people between our countries,” he said by e-mail. The effort will be led by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

The press release announcing the visit stated that the Prime Minister and the President planned to discuss “energy and climate change, security, and the economic relationship.” In the matter of security and the economy, action on preclearance, harmonizing regulations and making it easier for people to cross the border on business are all Beyond the Border initiatives that could be advanced in 2016, Mr. Robertson maintained.

Whether any movement is possible on energy and climate change could depend on another planned meeting of Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau. Though nothing has been confirmed, the two leaders and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are expected to have a “three amigos” meeting in Canada in April or late March, preceded by meetings of the foreign and energy ministers. A common approach to safety and environmental standards for fracking oil and natural gas is one possible outcome, Mr. Robertson speculated, while the Americans might also push Canada for environmental action in the Arctic.

Mr. Trudeau will doubtless be tempted to meet with Hillary Clinton, should she be in Washington. By then, the former secretary of state is likely to have trounced Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, thus becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Liberals and Democrats generally get along, and Ms. Clinton, a former New York senator, knows Canada well. Should she win the presidential election in November, Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Clinton could be expected to work co-operatively on a number of files until at least 2019, when Mr. Trudeau’s first term will expire. But such a meeting would violate the unwritten code of neutrality that Canadian prime ministers must adhere to during American elections. At the least, Mr. Trudeau couldn’t meet with Ms. Clinton without also meeting with the presumptive Republican nominee. And it is far from clear whether we will know who that is by March 10.

A Liberal government in Ottawa could do business with a Republican administration led by Florida Senator Marco Rubio or former Florida governor Jeb Bush, both of whom are mainstream candidates. But both men are currently trailing in the polls. The thought of either businessman Donald Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz – even if he was born in Canada – as president would appall Mr. Trudeau as much as it would appall most Canadians. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz are currently first and second in the Republican race, even though Mr. Cruz is an extreme right-winger and Mr. Trump is, to put it gently, a xenophobe. No more state dinners for Mr. Trudeau if either of those two men becomes president.

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Central Asia

Central Asia ripe for some Canadian know-how

Set high on the northern steppes, Astana owes its inspiration and creation to Kazakhstan’s first (and only) President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Bayterek Tower, Astana’s crowning glory, looks like a champagne flute topped by a golden cherry. It was supposedly sketched by Mr. Nazarbayev on a cocktail napkin. The profits from energy resources underwrite Kazakhstan and the headquarters of KazMunaiGaz, the national oil and gas company, is big and bold. Mr. Nazarbayev’s personal library, designed by Norman Foster, resembles a half cantaloupe.

Mr. Nazarbayev, 75, successfully transited from apparatchik to Kazakhstan’s founding father after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In April, he resoundingly won another five-year term.

When Mr. Nazarbayev moved the Kazakh capital in 1997 from Almaty to Astana, formerly the site of a notorious Soviet gulag, it supplanted Ottawa as the second coldest capital in the world. (Mongolia’s Ulan Bator is even colder.)

The President’s multivector foreign policy balances between competing spheres of influence – Russia, China, the European Union, the United States – while pursuing an independent course. Kazakhstan was the first former Soviet state to chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and last month it joined the World Trade Organization.

Kazakhstan is linked to Russia through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (1992) and the Eurasian Economic Union (2015).

China’s Xi Jingping announced his One Road, One Belt strategy (2013) in Astana and Chinese goods travel by rail through Kazakhstan to Europe. Kazakh oil flows by pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Xinjiang.

The European Union accounts for half of Kazak trade and foreign investment, bolstered Monday with the signature of an enhanced trade and security partnership agreement.

Since 2003, annual Steppe Eagle military exercises are held with the U.S. and other NATO nations and last month, in describing the American New Silk Road Initiative, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told students at Nazarbayev University that America’s stake in Central Asia “extends far beyond security.”

Central Asian border issues hamper closer regional co-operation. The Kazakh-Russian border is longer than the Canada-U.S. 49th parallel. Kazakhstan, the biggest of the ‘stans,’ is roughly the size of Ontario and Quebec.

Canada could work with Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics – Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – focusing on trade, governance, water management and nuclear safety.

Kazakhstan is a priority market for Canada and, with major investments in mining and oil and gas, an investment agreement is under negotiation.

The Transparency International index and Amnesty International’s reporting consider that corruption is a problem in Central Asia. Canada could usefully share its experience and expertise on accountability, transparency and good governance.

Transboundary water problems, notably the rapidly diminishing Aral Sea, date back to Soviet times and diversions around construction of hydro dams and irrigation of cotton plantations. Lessons can be shared from the Canadian-American boundary waters’ experience and our century-old International Joint Commission.

Kazakhstan is the biggest supplier of uranium, with Canada’s Cameco actively engaged in Kazak operations. Together, Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia provide two-thirds of the world supply. Building on our recent nuclear co-operation agreement, could we not work together in the development of a nuclear fuel bank for peaceful uses and in the management of nuclear waste?

For forty years, northern Kazakhstan was the site of 456 Soviet nuclear weapons tests, polluting an area the size of Germany. An estimated 1.5 million Kazakhs suffer radiation-related illness.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan voluntarily rid itself of nuclear weapons and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaties. Mr. Nazarbeyev launched Project ATOM (Abolish Testing is our Mission) to promote nuclear disarmament and end nuclear testing. Kazakhstan led the effort that earlier this month led to the passing of the Declaration on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World at the UN General Assembly. These are goals shared by the Canadian-inspired Pugwash conferences.

As the gateway for invaders east and west since the time of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, the 61 million people who live in Central Asia are a remarkable mixture of ethnicities, tribes, religions and languages.

Once again, there is renewed great-power jockeying for influence within Central Asia. The history, climate and geography of the region are harsh and unforgiving. Their governments are authoritarian and characterized by eccentricity. Their peoples might want more freedom and liberty but peace, security and order are their first priorities.

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Paris Climate Talks

How Paris can bend the curve on climate change

Meanwhile, global temperatures keep rising with the World Meteorological Organization predicting 2015 will be the warmest on record. U.S. President Barack Obama warned last week in Paris that “more and more and more” of economic and military resources are devoted to adapting to the “various consequences of a changing planet.”

Paris is the 21st in an annual series of meetings. The conference of the parties (COP) began after the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit” (1992) produced the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity. Rio established climate change as a global problem requiring global action.

Rio also acknowledged that because of different stages of industrialization, there would be “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The Kyoto Protocol (1997) interpreted this principle by having developed nations, but not developing nations, taking on specific commitments to reduce their carbon footprint.

Kyoto didn’t fly, largely because of this differentiation. The U.S. Senate rejected Kyoto 95-0. Others, including Canada, withdrew with the result that Kyoto commitments only cover around 14 per cent of global emissions.

Global growth in emissions now comes from large emerging economies as developed nations’ emissions are flattening.

China recently passed the U.S. as the world’s biggest emitter. Any breakthroughs in Paris will owe much to the agreement (2014) by President Obama and President Xi Jinping on targets for their emissions’ cuts. Their agreement shifted the global politics of climate change.

Determining whether Paris is more than just hot air will depend on a series of markers.

First, sufficient buy-in. The “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDC) going into Paris totalled 185 nations covering more than 95 per cent of global emissions. This significantly differentiates Paris from Kyoto and, if it holds, gives both scope and foundation for ongoing progress.

Second, a mechanism for review, verification and renewal. Regular five-year reviews should include ratcheting up provisions to take account of breakthroughs in innovation.

Third, a fund for mitigation and adaptation. Developed countries have pledged a $100-billion Green Climate Fund, with Canada contributing $2.65-billion, by 2020 to help the poorest countries with loss and damage. Some developing nations want developed nations to accept unlimited liability for climate and weather damages but, like Kyoto, this won’t fly.

There is growing recognition that while different countries face different realities and have different responsibilities, it is a problem of the global commons.

The Mission Innovation initiative announced at Paris by 21 leaders, including Mr. Trudeau, pledges to make clean energy available worldwide. Canada has pledged $300-million annually for investment in clean technology and innovation.

That the private sector is stepping up is another positive. As Canadian Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, recently told Lloyd’s of London, climate change is “the tragedy of the horizon” warning that “once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”

Last week, the Breakthrough Business Coalition, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Alibaba’s Jack Ma, pledged to mobilize billions in investment in “truly transformative” energy solutions. At TED2010, Mr. Gates made the case for innovating our economies to zero emissions by 2050 through a combination of market and innovation incentives and help to the world’s poorest.

After Paris, the continuing process will be both top-down and bottom-up. There are many unknowns: How fast we can develop new technologies; population growth; economic growth; and, especially, political will and commitment.

Within Canada and the United States, the climate debate has got to get past the right versus left divide.

A polarized environment-versus-economy argument makes no sense. As Preston Manning has argued, “conservatives” and “conservation” come from the same root. Margaret Thatcher understood this. Conservative skeptics should read her 1989 speech where the Iron Lady told the United Nations that the “evidence is there and damage is being done.”

Paris can bend the curve on climate change. But success at Paris is not the finale. Rather it is another anchor event in a long marathon that must include changing attitudes and habits across nations and across generations. There is continuing resonance in Ms. Thatcher’s parting admonition at the UN:

“We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself – preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder.”

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