Amid Trade Dispute, New England And Canadian Leaders To Talk

President Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G-7 summit on June 8 in Charlevoix, Canada. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G-7 summit on June 8 in Charlevoix, Canada. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Some of the political leaders from the New England states and the premiers of the five eastern Canadian provinces will be meeting at a Vermont ski resort to talk about issues facing the region and the two countries while a bitter trade dispute simmers between Washington and Ottawa.

People are expected to begin arriving in Stowe on Sunday, the eve of Monday's meeting at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. Participants of the 42nd Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers will discuss regional issues affecting the adjoining regions in the two countries such as energy, the environment and trade.

This year's meeting comes as the U.S., Canada and Mexico are renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trump administration officials have made snarky comments about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"This is a fairly unprecedented time," said Jeffrey Ayres, a political science professor at Vermont's St. Michael's College who specializes in U.S.-Canadian relations.

On Sunday, Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard are expected to sign a joint declaration to strengthen their cooperative ties in commerce, energy, environmental protection, transportation and tourism, Scott's office said.

In most years, the meetings have offered the leaders and their staffs the opportunity to get to know one another while discussing issues important to the region that are not necessarily directed by diplomats. That is sure to go on this year as well, but hanging over the meeting will be the simmering trade tensions between the two countries.

After a June meeting of the Group of Seven in Charlevoix, Quebec, Trump called Trudeau "dishonest" and "weak." Then White House trade adviser Peter Navarro asserted Trudeau "deserves a special place in hell" for attempting to "stab [Trump] in the back." Navarro later apologized.

The U.S.-imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum are sure to be felt in the region. Quebec employs about 30,000 people in the two industries.

"I could imagine that there will be a number of issues like that where the premiers and state governors will have a lot of common interests and they will be looking at particular industries: How do we ensure that trade continues and we both continue to trade successfully?" said Armand de Mestral, a professor emeritus of law at Montreal's McGill University.

Over the decades, the leaders of the six New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — have met regularly with their counterparts from the five eastern Canadian provinces — New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage will not be attending the meeting. The governors of New Hampshire and Rhode Island and the premier of Nova Scotia will be sending representatives, including Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

He said the region is fortunate to have strong existing cross-border relationships.

"I would definitely say that meetings such as these are very important to keeping our state/provincial relationships strong and valuable to all in the face of these ongoing national-level trade talks on tariffs," he said.


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