Sunday, January 11, 2009

Winner of the Obama first foreign trip derby: Canada

It was announced yesterday that Canada would have the honor of being the first foreign country Barack Obama visits after being sworn in as president next week. Past that tidbit neither the Obama camp nor Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered any details on the planned visit.

Obama caused a stir on the campaign trail last summer by suggesting he would like to renegotiate some aspects of the NAFTA treaty (NAFTA established the free trade zone that includes the US, Canada and Mexico). Obama said on the campaign trail that he would like to see increased protections for labor and the environment included in an updated NAFTA agreement. But I would caution Obama that there is a danger in trying to crack open NAFTA for some reworking, many Canadians felt that they got a raw deal in the initial agreement in the early 90s, so if we start negotiating again, they'll probably have their own ideas on how to make the agreement better.

It's also likely that Obama will lobby Canada to keep their troops in Afghanistan past 2011, when they are scheduled to fully withdraw their forces. But again, this is a touchy issue with many Canadians who feel that their contributions to the war in Afghanistan aren't appreciated enough. More than 100 Canadian soldiers have died in service since the Afghan mission began in 2001. Add to that talks over the ongoing financial crisis that is hitting both of our countries and the fact that Harper himself may even be replaced as Prime Minister if the political opposition in Parliament has their way and you can see Pres. Obama's first trip abroad is going to be more than a few fluffy speeches and photo ops. The Canadian trip is expected to happen before the end of April.
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