Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is opting a low-key approach to dealing with United States President Donald Trump – seeking to avoid clashes while indirectly signalling the two leaders’ difference to a domestic audience.
Insiders have acknowledged that the cautious strategy could anger progressives whose support helped bring Mr Trudeau to power in 2015, however they say that for now, he has no choice but to maintain a low key approach, as Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the US and could suffer if it were to be targeted by Trump’s administration.
While Mr Trudeau maintained a close friendship with former President Barack Obama, Canadian prime ministers have not always had close ties with US presidents. Insiders however have noted that few in Ottawa have experienced anything like Mr Trump. While Canada regards the US as its closest ally, Mr Trudeau has yet to visit Washington to meet with Mr Trump. According to people familiar with the matter, a visit tentatively scheduled at the beginning of this month was cancelled after a shooter killed six Muslims in a Quebec mosque. No new date has been set.
According to Michael Kergin, a former Canadian ambassador to Washington, Mr Trudeau’s caution has been wise, stating “he’s been playing it pretty well by restraining the temptation to be publicly critical of the president.” Kergin went on to say that Mr Trudeau was also right not to follow British Prime Minister Theresa May in rushing to Washington to push for closer ties only to watch President Trump make an unpopular move on immigration after she left.
Mr Trudeau however has taken indirect shots – when Mr Trump signed orders banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries, Mr Trudeau tweeted that Canada was open to those fleeing war. Furthermore, while his chief spokeswoman blasted US network Fox News late last month for a tweet falsely claiming that the Quebec gunman was of Moroccan origin, she said nothing publicly when Trump’s spokesman said that the attack on Muslims showed why it was important to suspend immigration from Muslim nations. This approach however has angered many in Canada, including the opposition New Democrats, who have called on the Prime Minister to denounce Mr Trump’s “racist” immigration policy. In turn, members of Mr Trudeau’s team have acknowledged that over time, the Liberals could lose support before a 2019 election if the prime minister is deemed not tot be standing up for Canadian values, such as inclusiveness.
According to a classified document, Canada’s main spy agency, CSIS, last year warned energy companies about an increase risk of cyber espionage and attacks on pipelines, oil storage and shipment facilities and power transmission towers using homemade explosives.
The warning, which was made in May last year by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) highlights an additional risk for the energy sector, where opposition to pipelines has increased in Canada and the United States. Reuters, which has seen the document under access-to-information law, has reported that it features speaking notes prepared for a CSIS briefing with energy and utilities sectors stakeholders, adding that an unidentified official specifies a threat from foreign state-owned firms looking for confidential information about investments or takeovers. The official disclosed in the document “you should expect your networks to be hit if you are involved in any significant financial interactions with certain foreign states.” The official went on to say in the document that the hackers would want information on anything from valuations to tax records and clients names. The official stated that the agency had collected evidence of such espionage in the past. The document also warned that the sector was “vulnerable to explosives” and identified potential targets. In the document, the CSIS official referred to “terrorist attacks” since 2014 in Canada and abroad, stating that even large-scale attacks are “technically simple.”
The document, parts of which were obscured for security reasons, did not show the foreign states whose companies may be linked to industrial espionage or their purported Canadian victims. A spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada, which oversees CSIS, stated that there had been “growth in attempted cyber attacks,” however she declined to comment on the specific incidents or threats, citing the demands of privacy and national security.
In 2012, CSIS told the Canadian government that takeovers by Chinese companies may threaten national security. At the time, China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd had bid for Canadian producer Nexen Inc. Last year, five oil pipelines carrying Canadian crude in the US were halted in coordinated attacks by environmental protesters. The attacks demonstrated the ease with which people with no technical expertise can disrupt the industry. While energy companies already use surveillance cameras, helicopters, remote sensors and drones in order to monitor some 119,00 km (74,000 miles) of pipelines across the country, which carry 3.4 million barrels of crude a day, and have an agreement to collaborate during an emergency, security experts and energy industry officials have said that it is impossible to lower the threat to zero.
US President Donald Trump has stated that he will soon begin “renegotiating” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.
According to the newly sworn-in president, meetings have been scheduled with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The White House website states that if Canada and Mexico refuse to accept a renegotiation of the agreement that provides a “fair deal” for American workers, then the US will move to withdraw from it.
Speaking at a ceremony to swear in senior White House staff, President Trump also stated that he would tak with Mexican President Pena Nieto about immigration and and border security in a meeting that the White House says will take place on 31 January. No date has been given for a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Trudeau.
Meanwhile on 21 January, President Pena Nieto’s office disclosed that the Mexican leader had called Mr Trump to congratulate him. In a statement, the Mexican president “reiterated the strategic priority of bilateral ties…and expressed his interest in maintaining an open dialogue.” President Trump meanwhile has stated that “Mexico has been terrific. The president has been really very amazing.” In regards to the NAFTA renegotiations, President Trump stated, “I think we are going to have a very good result for Mexico, for the United States, for everybody.”
President Pena Nieto has faced criticism in Mexico for lacking a clear plan of action to deal with President Trump’s threats, which include building a massive border wall at Mexico’s expense and imposing a tax on Mexican imports. Protests were held on 20 January outside a Ford showroom in Mexico City after the car company cancelled a US $1.6 billion plant that it had planned on building in Mexico.
What is the NAFTA Agreement?
The North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect between the US, Canada and Mexico in 1994, when Bill Clinton was president. The agreement effectively created one of the world’s largest free trade zones by reducing or eliminating tariffs on most products. The pact was meant to benefit small businesses by lowering costs and reducing bureaucracy in a bid to facilitate buying and selling abroad. However whether it has ultimately helped or harmed Americans has been hotly debated. In 2015, the Congressional Research Service, which provides independent analysis, stated that “in reality, NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters,” adding that “the net overall effect of NAFTA on the US economy appears to have been relatively modest, primarily because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for a small percentage of US GDP.”
The US presidential elections are already swinging the pendulum for Latin America in significant ways. The fear that the US will now revert to protectionism lead to a major sell off across different asset classes. The Mexican Peso tumbled to 20-years lows and has hardly recovered as of yet, pulling down the entire region. After an initial quick fall the Dollar bounced hard and is currently trading at multi-month highs. This has exacerbated the devaluation of Latin American currencies, which are traded against the Dollar.
Apart from the financial fallout, geopolitical consequences of Trump’s future policies have appeared as well. Now that Trump has confirmed he will not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potential members like Chili, Peru, Mexico and Colombia will likely beef up their bilateral economic relations in order to compensate for TPP. Peru already stated to foresee bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. Argentina, very open to free trade, will receive $4.1 billion in investments from Canada. This is about half the amount expected from US companies through 2019. A more protectionist approach by Trump could bring that amount down and leave the door open for Canadian companies to fill the gap. Withdrawal from NAFTA could exacerbate this and will constitute extra incentive for Latin American countries to strengthen bilateral relations with other geopolitical powers. Peru, which has strong historic ties with China, already trades more with China than with the US, a development that could potentially spill over to increased security and military cooperation. President Kuczynski’s pull to China is very clear: “We hope to tap into new markets in China, especially for agriculture. We are also interested in cooperation on science and technology. Furthermore, cultural exchanges and cooperation in archaeology and climate change are also very important for us.” It remains the question whether the US will look on from the sidelines if Russia and China increase their influence in Latin America.
Interregional relations are likely to strengthen as well, given Trump’s veiled threats to Central American countries on the topic of immigration. Whether the US will build a wall or will significantly increase deportations of immigrants, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have said to form a bloc with Mexico to deal with the US under Trump leadership. However, with regards to Mexico, it is likely that organized-crime competition will increase, as a result of traffic restrictions and stricter border controls. In this scenario, conflict over control over the remaining open crossings would lead to increased violence. Violence in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana is already on the rise. The second security consequence for Mexico stems from the influx of deportees, who would have few employment opportunities in Mexico. They could provide a ready pool of labour for criminal organizations. Central American cooperation is said to increase collaboration on jobs, investments and migration.
It remains to be seen as to which direction the pendulum will eventually swing, however, for the moment significant financial, economic and security consequences are already visible in Latin America.
On Thursday 20 October, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi disclosed that the offensive to seize back Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group was going faster than planned, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a new military operation to clear villages around the city.
Speaking via a video conference call to senior officials who met in Paris in order to discuss the future of Iraq’s second-largest city, the Prime Minister disclosed “the forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we though and more quickly than we had programmed.” Four days into the assault on Mosul, Iraqi government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are steadily recovering outlying territory before the main push into the city begins.
According to Kurdish and Iraqi military statements, on Thursday, an Iraqi army elite unit and Kurdish fighters started trying to take back villages north and east of Mosul. Sources on the ground have disclosed that howitzer and mortar fire started at 6:00 AM (0300 GMT), hitting a group of villages held by IS about 20 km (13 miles) north and east of Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead. In a statement announcing the launch of Thursday’s operations, the Kurdish general military disclosed that “the objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s (IS) movements.”
Sources have disclosed that dozens of black Humvees of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) mounted with machine guns, headed towards Bartella, which is a Christian village whose population fled after IS took over the region. The town is the main attack target on the eastern front. A CTS spokesman at a nearby location has reported that the militants are fighting back, using suicide car-bombs, roadside bombs and snipers in a bid to push the attack back, adding that they are pounding surrounding areas with mortar. Over the past year, the US-trained CTS has spearheaded most of the offensive against IS, including the capture of Ramadi and Falluja, west of the capital Baghdad. The force is deployed on a Kurdish frontline, marking the first joint military operation between the government of Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.
On the northern front, Kurdish Peshmerga shot down with machine guns an unmanned drone aircraft that came from IS lines in the village of Nawaran, which is located a few kilometres away. It was not clear if the drone, which was 1 – 2 metres (3 – 6 feet) wide, was carrying explosives or just on reconnaissance. According to Halgurd Hasan, one of the Kurdish fighters deployed in a position overlooking the plain north of Mosul, “there have ben times when they dropped explosives.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister announced the start of the offensive to retake Mosul on 17 October, two years after th city fell to the militants, who declared from its Grand Mosque a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Mosul is the last big city stronghold held by IS in Iraq. Raqqa is the capital of the group in Syria. A US-led coalition, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy and other Western nations, is providing air and ground support to the forces who are closing in on the city. The battle for Mosul is expected to be the biggest battle in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein. Around 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and the battle is expected to last weeks, if not months.
The warring sides are not making public their casualty tolls or the number of casualties amongst civilians. Iraqi officials and residents of Mosul however have reported that IS is preventing people from leaving the city, in effect using them as shields to complicate air strikes and the ground progress of the attacking forces. The administration of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province is now one of the main topics of discussion for world leaders. There are growing concerns that the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni group would cause new sectarian and ethnic violence, fuelled by a desire to avenge atrocities that were inflicted on minority groups.