Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is speaking to the European Union’s two main political leaders on Thursday, and they are expected to discuss their common commitment to international cooperation and what it means before the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday.
Today’s triple video conference between Trudeau, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Charles Michel, the president of the Council of the European Union, will mark the first formal discussion they have been able to have since changing the guard of Europe’s political leadership at the end of last year.
In a world without a pandemic, it would have been a formal summit, a continuation of the two-day case last summer that Trudeau sponsored with one of Von der Leyen and Michel’s predecessors, Donald Tusk.
That meeting was marked by demonstrations of Canada-EU political allegiance, which saw Trudeau and Tusk position themselves as defenders of a world order that has been increasingly attacked by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Now, in the COVID-19 world, Trudeau, Von der Leyen and Michel are ready to send the same signal.
Leaders must express support for WHO
A senior EU official in Brussels, who informed the Canadian press before the talks on condition that they were not identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the talks would affirm strong support for the United Nations World Health Organization.
Trump threatened to withdraw U.S. funding from WHO and ridiculed the agency as a puppet from China because, he says, it minimized the severity of the early outbreak of COVID-19.
With the US elections taking place next week, the EU official said it will be important for the three leaders to demonstrate their common support for international organizations, respect for human rights and support for free trade.
On trade, they will discuss Canada-led efforts to reform the World Trade Organization, a process known as the Ottawa Group, the official said.
Canada leads about a dozen countries with similar ideas in the desire to reform the WTO, but has not invited the United States or China to participate. The Trump administration followed up on a plan that basically deactivated one of the WTO’s main dispute settlement mechanisms, the appellate body.
As the United States is the largest contributor to the WTO, they can appoint judges to the body, but have not been able to fill vacancies that have existed since December. The result paralyzed the body because there are not enough judges to hear the disputes.
Trump called the WTO “horrible” and unfair to the United States in resolving trade disputes.
Commerce Minister Mary Ng called the Ottawa Group’s last meeting on Tuesday via videoconference.
“Canadians benefit from an open, transparent and rule-based international trade system with the WTO at its core,” said Ng in a statement.
Canada and the EU have created their own ad hoc replacement body for the appeal body in the hope of trying to resolve disputes.
Lawrence Herman, a Toronto international trade lawyer, said the initiative was a good attempt, but it did not replace what Trump undermined.
“It works only to a limited extent,” said Herman.
“It is a great idea, considering what is happening at the WTO, but it does not solve all the problems.”
United front in China
The EU official said the three leaders would also discuss the growing provocations presented by China.
At the recent EU summit with China, the bloc highlighted the plight of imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
They were arrested nearly two years ago in what the Canadian government interpreted as retaliation for the Canadian arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou, under an extradition order from the United States.
Canada welcomed the EU’s support for the release of Kovring and Spavor, which came in the final statement of its summit with China. The EU joined dozens of other countries in supporting Canada’s efforts to publicly call for its release, a campaign that infuriated China.
The EU official said the bloc wants to discuss how it can strengthen its partnership with Canada in its relationship with China and in the defense of human rights.