U.S.–Canadian Summit: Issues to Watch

Report Global Politics

U.S.–Canadian Summit: Issues to Watch

March 9, 2016 5 min read Download Report

Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau will visit President Obama on March 10 for a state dinner. This will be the first state visit by a Canadian prime minister to the U.S. in 19 years. As such, it is an important opportunity for both leaders to further deepen the strong relationship between Canada and the U.S. The two nations have collaborated on many issues in the past and should increase their efforts to improve economic growth and increase security. While each nation faces its own domestic challenges, the visit is an opportunity to facilitate cooperation in dealing with problems that have important implications on both sides of the border: trade and travel, energy security, and terrorism.

Trade, Travel, and Security

The U.S. and Canada have the largest trading relationship in the world, with $760 billion in goods and services being traded in 2014. Multiple free trade agreements with Canada, most notably the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have enabled trade between the U.S. and Canada to more than triple since 1989.[1] Citizens of either country do not need a visa or travel authorization to visit the other country.

More recently, the U.S. has established preclearance facilities at eight Canadian airports as well as a ferry between Vancouver Island and Washington state, where customs and immigration inspections occur prior to arrival in the U.S., thus making travel easier.[2] Canadian and U.S. travelers can also join the NEXUS program that allows pre-screened travelers to receive expedited customs and immigration screening at airports as well as other benefits.[3] Under the Beyond the Border initiative, the U.S. and Canada are piloting the sharing of entry and exit information, so that entry into one country can be used as a record of exiting the other country.[4] The Beyond the Border initiative also worked to increase the number of shipments that could receive expedited customs clearance.[5]

Toward an Open-Market Energy Policy

Americans benefit greatly from having a neighbor to the north that has an abundance of natural resources. Nearly 40 percent of imported oil and 18 percent of uranium used in U.S. nuclear power plants comes from Canada.[6] Hydroelectric plants supply affordable, reliable electricity to customers in New England, New York, and the Midwest.[7] In total, 93 percent of Canadian energy exports go to the U.S. The Obama Administration strained the American–Canadian energy trade relationship by rejecting TransCanada’s permit application to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The project had the capacity to carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. government’s current role is for the State Department to make a national interest determination on pipelines crossing the U.S.–Canadian border. Even that, however, is too expansive. The only role the federal government should have in the process is to determine if the pipeline poses any national security threat. While the State Department concluded that the project was environmentally safe, the government controlled the outcome rather than allowing a private-sector decision whether TransCanada built the pipeline.

The Keystone XL decision represents a larger threat to energy free enterprise: climate change regulations and subsidies. PM Trudeau supports policies to reduce carbon dioxide, including carbon pricing. In February, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico signed a clean-energy pact that emphasizes government spending on politically preferred “clean” technologies. The U.S. is already well down this path, implementing global warming regulations on new and existing power plants and hydraulic fracturing, among other sources of emissions. Further, the Administration has spent tens of billions of dollars through an array of subsidy programs available for carbon-free sources of energy.

America and Canada have abundant supplies of coal, oil, and natural gas.[8] Restricting their availability will drive prices higher for families and businesses in North America and have little or no effect on warming.

Stopping and Defeating Terrorism

With the world’s longest land border and common Western values, the U.S. and Canada should work together in their efforts to combat terrorism. In the past several years, both countries have been attacked by Islamist terrorists and both have had significant numbers of individuals leave to join ISIS or other terrorists groups in the Middle East.[9] As such there are many ways in which the U.S. and Canada should be working together to defeat terrorism. Indeed, in the 2010 Joint Border Threat and Risk Assessment, U.S. and Canadian border officials emphasized the fact that “terrorism in one country is a national security threat to the other.”[10]

At home, this means maintaining and strengthening information sharing on potential threats. Canada and the U.S., together with the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, have a tight-knit intelligence relationship known as the “Five Eyes.” According to personal communication with officials from these countries, the Five Eyes have recently begun meeting to discuss immigration and border-security issues. As mentioned earlier, information sharing is also occurring through the Beyond the Border program to prevent terrorist travel together with other efforts to prepare and train for cross-border emergencies and attacks.

Abroad, the U.S. and Canada’s work to defeat terrorism has taken a recent step backward as Canada stopped its bombing of ISIS targets.[11] To make up for this, however, Canada has committed additional training and supporting forces to assist Iraqi, Kurdish, Lebanese, and Jordanian partners. PM Trudeau has also pledged extra much needed humanitarian aid.[12]

Advancing U.S. and Canadian Security and Prosperity

During the visit, President Obama and PM Trudeau should discuss ways to advance U.S. and Canadian economic and security interests. Specifically, they should seek to:

  • Make travel and trade between our countries faster, simpler, and more secure. This would include looking to further expand entry and exit information sharing, expanding preclearance and trusted traveler and trader programs, and using bodies like the Regulatory Cooperation Council to further minimize regulatory barriers to trade.
  • Allow the energy market to flourish. Rather than add costly, ineffective regulations to natural resource development, PM Trudeau and President Obama should commit to expanding resource development, reducing energy subsidies, and continuing to build on the robust energy free trade relationship that benefits Americans and Canadians alike.
  • Prevent terrorism at home. PM Trudeau and President Obama should look for ways to expand U.S. and Canadian intelligence cooperation. Additionally, they should consider how both nations can work to prevent fighters from joining ISIS and how they can work to assist each other in vetting refugees from Syria.
  • Defeat terrorism abroad. While PM Trudeau is unlikely to reverse his course on the bombing missions, the U.S. should continue to work with Canada to the extent possible to help defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Separate Countries, Common Interests

The U.S. and Canada would both benefit from paying closer attention to their common interests and working to deepen their already strong relationship. To do so, the U.S. and Canada should further facilitate trade and travel, advance energy policies that support both countries’ economies, and increase intelligence and military cooperation to defeat terrorism at home and abroad. Doing so will make Americans and Canadians safer and allow all to prosper.

—David Inserra is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security and Cyber Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation. Nicolas D. Loris is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] Government of Canada, “Canada and the United States—Trading and Investment,” January 22, 2016, http://www.can-am.gc.ca/relations/commercial_relations_commerciales.aspx?lang=eng (accessed March 7, 2016).

[2] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Preclearance Locations, http://www.cbp.gov/border-security/ports-entry/operations/preclearance (accessed March 7, 2016).

[3] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, NEXUS, http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/nexus (accessed March 7, 2016).

[4] Government of Canada, “Canada Border Services Agency—Entry/Exit Initiative: Enhancing Border Security and the Integrity of Immigration Programs,” January 26, 2016, http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/btb-pdf/ebsiip-asfipi-eng.html (accessed March 7, 2016).

[5] Jessica Zuckerman, Bryan Riley, and David Inserra, “Beyond the Border: U.S. and Canada Expand Partnership in Trade and Security,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2808, June 17, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/06/beyond-the-border-us-and-canada-expand-partnership-in-trade-and-security.

[6] Government of Canada, “Energy Relations,” http://can-am.gc.ca/relations/energy-energie.aspx?lang=eng (accessed March 7, 2016).

[7] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “U.S.-Canada Electricity Trade Increases,” July 9, 2015, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=21992 (accessed March 7, 2016).

[8] Institute for Energy Research, “North American Energy Inventory,” December 2011, http://www.energyforamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Energy-InventoryFINAL.pdf (accessed March 7, 2016).

[9] Lisa Curtis et al., “Combatting the ISIS Foreign Fighter Pipeline: A Global Approach,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 180, January 6, 2016, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/01/combatting-the-isis-foreign-fighter-pipeline-a-global-approach.

[10] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States–Canada Joint Border Threat and Risk Assessment, July 2010, https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/us-canada-jbtra.pdf (accessed March 7, 2016).

[11] David Pugliese, “Canadian CF-18s Ended Bombing Mission in Iraq and Syria on Monday, Military Confirms,” National Post, February 17, 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-cf-18s-stop-bombing-in-iraq-and-syria-mission-now-ended (accessed March 7, 2016).

[12] Susana Mas, “ISIS Airstrikes by Canada to End by Feb. 22, Training Forces to Triple,” CBC News, February 9, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-canada-isis-fight-announcement-1.3438279 (accessed March 7, 2016).


David Inserra

Policy Analyst for Homeland Security and Cyber Policy

Nicolas Loris
Nicolas Loris

Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy