Uncertainty about US intentions hangs over G20 finance ministers

Morneau, who has met with Trump officials, is expected to shed light on concerns about US fiscal and trade policy.

March 15, 2017   by Mike Blanchfield

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will trumpet Canada’s firm belief in a rules-based, multilateral trading system when his G20 counterparts host Donald Trump’s new treasury secretary for the first time this weekend, officials say.

A senior Finance Department official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the uncertainty of US financial policy under Donald Trump is set to dominate the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors.

Morneau expects to be a popular person when he meets his counterparts in the German city of Baden-Baden.

That’s because he’s already met some high-level Trump administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who will be making his G20 debut, the official said.

The official said the ministers and bank governors expect Morneau to shed light on some of the uncertainty about US fiscal and trade policy that pervades the G20.

The finance ministers are helping to set the table for the July G20 leaders’ summit in Hamburg that Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to attend.

That is one of several major summits on Trump’s international agenda this coming spring and summer, which will also include gatherings of the G7 and NATO.

“It is important for the prime minister and this government, broadly, to engage positively, constructively with its partners around the world, to advance our mutual interests, to look out for jobs,” said another senior government official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity

“At the end of the day, progressive trade is possible.”

A preview of the German-hosted G20 was to have occurred March 14, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was supposed to meet Trump in Washington.

But the visit was postponed to March 17 because of a heavy snowstorm that hit the US northeast.

Canada hopes the Merkel-Trump tete-a-tete can smooth over some of the acrimony that has plagued German-US relations.

Trump has called Merkel’s decision to allow nearly 900,000 asylum seekers into Germany a “disaster” and has criticized the country’s trade surplus with the United States.

Trudeau gave Merkel an account of his own visit with Trump at the White House last month when he visited her days later in Berlin.

The Liberal government is stepping up its own courtship of the Trump administration with its decision to dispatch high-level visitors to 11 key US states that have strong business and trading ties to Canada.

Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, Texas, California and Florida will all receive visits from about a dozen different cabinet ministers in an effort to stress the strong economic links between the two countries.

For eight of the states, Canada is their top trading partner, while some of the states are being targeted because they are the homes of prominent members of Trump’s cabinet.

The visits got underway on Tuesday, when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, travelled to Iowa, where the government says 100,000 jobs depend on trade with Canada.

The visits will continue over the next three months. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is in charge of Canada-US relations, will visit Pennsylvania, a swing state that was key to Trump’s victory, as well as California, which boasts the U.S.’s largest economy.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly will also visit California. Officials say they want to see a senior Quebec minister tell what they see as a positive story about how California and Quebec share a carbon-pricing market, something touted as a model for other jurisdictions.

At the same time, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr will return to Texas, where he joined Trudeau last week at a major international energy gathering in Houston to promote Canada’s energy sector.

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