by Christopher Guly
OTTAWA, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- In Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's eyes, the new president of the neighboring United States, Donald Trump, is "a businessman, gets along well with people (and) knows how to be personable."
Yet Trudeau will get the chance to see whether this is really the case when the two leaders meet for the first time in Washington on Monday.
Last week, Trudeau signaled his agenda via both social media and traditional news media. He tweeted that "strong Canada-U.S. ties help the middle class in both our countries," and told Canadian media when visiting Canada's northern territory of Iqaluit that his priorities in the bilateral relationship with the United States are to "highlight Canadian values and principles and the things that keep our country strong."
He also aims to create "jobs and opportunity for Canadian citizens through the continued close integration on both sides of the border," he told Canadian reporters.
But within the Canada-U.S. relationship, there are deep divisions along ideological lines between Trudeau's Liberal government and Trump's Republican administration on several high-profile issues, including refugees and trade.
Asylum seekers have been crossing the United States' northern border into Canada following Trump's late January executive order suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, which itself was later suspended by U.S. courts.
While Trudeau tweeted that Canadians welcome "those fleeing persecution, terror & war," Trump could view Canada's open door to refugees as more of a revolving one that could allow them to cross back into the United States and prompt him to enforce tougher border-security measures against Canada.
On trade, Trump's protectionist campaign rhetoric has followed him as policy to the White House. His administration has already removed his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is expected to proceed with renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) involving the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Trudeau's government is open to revisiting NAFTA, but has also kept Canada in the TPP.
However, as the United States is Canada's largest trading partner with more than 70 percent of Canadian exports going to the United States, Trudeau's challenge will be to avoid damaging that cross-border economic link under Trump's America First agenda while affirming his government's opposition to any export tariffs directed at Canada.
According to Carlo Dade, director of the Trade and Investment Policy Center at the Canada West Foundation, a public-policy research think-tank based in Calgary, during their Oval Office meeting in Washington on Monday, Trudeau could explain to Trump how bilateral trade benefits the United States by focusing on the most contentious trade dispute between the two countries, notably Canada's softwood lumber and its protected dairy and poultry industries.
In 2015, a Canada-U.S. trade deal involving Canadian softwood lumber expired. Last year, the American lumber industry formally asked the U.S. Commerce Department to investigate the claim that Canadian lumber is being sold for less than fair market value. Duties against Canadian lumber could result in as early as this spring.
But Trudeau could make a direct pitch on the advantages of Canadian softwood lumber to Trump, said Dade, who is also a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's School of International Development and Global Studies.
"Trudeau could present softwood lumber in a positive way and say to Trump that given his concern about creating jobs and housing starts, Canada has good and cheap lumber that would help keep residential construction costs down and increase employment in that sector in the U.S.," said Dade.