In Canada, Obama Pledges Stronger Ties

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President Obama embarked on his first foreign tour as head of state today, traveling north of the border to visit Canada. Talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper focused on the economy, trade, energy and Afghanistan.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin on the borders in this segment of the program, Canada and Mexico. First our neighbor to the north. Many Canadians feel they've been snubbed in recent years by the United States. And today President Obama made his first visit to a foreign capital, and it was Ottawa - just over the St. Lawrence River from upstate New York - for a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The president pledged to improve relations.

NPR's Scott Horsley traveled with the president and joins us now. Scott, we know that the president's celebrity is not confined to U.S. borders. What kind of a welcome did he get on his first foreign trip?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, he got a warm welcome on a chilly day. His approval ratings are even higher here in Canada than they're at home. There's a canal, the Rideau Canal, that snakes through the capital. And in the wintertime it becomes kind of a linear skating range. You could see skaters today waving to the president as his motorcade passed by. And when he got to Parliament Hill, there was a crowd of about 2,000 people who had gathered to show their support. One man held up a sign that said Yes We Canada.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: His support and popularity aside, there have been real concerns among Canadians about President Obama's commitment to free trade or whether he might not be a protectionist.

HORSLEY: That's right. This goes back to last year during the primary, when Mr. Obama and his Democratic rivals were trying to outdo one another in badmouthing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trade between the U.S. and Canada has grown exponentially since that agreement was passed. And it's now the biggest trading relationship in the world. You might remember that one of Barack Obama's advisors during the campaign, Austan Goolsbee, got in some trouble for suggesting to Canadians that that was just campaign rhetoric and didn't reflect Mr. Obama's real economic views.

SIEGEL: Yeah, but more recently than that we've seen in the stimulus package the so-called Buy American provision.

HORSLEY: That's right. This provision gives preferential treatment to U.S.-made steel and iron and manufactured goods in the public works project that are funded by that stimulus bill. And that set off alarm bells here in Canada and in other countries that supply the U.S. The language was modified in Congress to make it clear that the U.S. still intends to live up to its free trade agreements. Mr. Obama said this is no time to fall back into protectionist ways and he repeated that promise today.

President BARACK OBAMA: I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it. And I don't think that there was anything in the recovery package that is adverse to that goal.

HORSLEY: Prime Minister Harper accepted that reassurance but he also said rather pointedly that if the U.S. and other countries adopt stimulus plans that only stimulate their own economies, the world economy will sink deeper into recession.

SIEGEL: Prime Minister Harper and President Obama announced an agreement on clean energy projects. What's that about?

HORSLEY: They've agreed to cooperate on developing technologies that would allow the continued exploitation of fossil fuels - like oil from the Canadian tar-sands or coal from United States - and still reduce greenhouse gases. Its kind of have your cake and eat it too proposal. There is seed money for research in that kind of technology in the new stimulus bill. And that's a key reason that Mr. Obama's climate czar, Carol Browner, accompanied him on this first foreign trip.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Ottawa, Canada.

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Obama Discusses Trade, Climate Change In Canada

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed Thursday to promote the development of clean energy technologies, at the conclusion of Obama's first foreign trip since becoming president.

At a joint news conference Thursday afternoon, Obama and Harper announced that the two countries would work together on joint research and development to advance carbon reduction technologies and develop an electric grid that can deliver clean and renewable energy in the U.S. and Canada.

"We can't afford to combat these issues in isolation," Obama said.

Oil industry officials have estimated that Canada's tar sands could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil, but environmental groups want Obama to push for restrictions on oil from tar sands because extraction produces large amounts of the greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change.

Canadians have countered that coal-fired plants in the U.S. produce more carbon emissions.

On Thursday, the leaders agreed that senior officials from both countries would collaborate on the development of clean energy science and technologies to address concerns over carbon emissions from tar sands and coal-fired plants.

Discussions between the two leaders during a daylong meeting focused on three priorities: working to turn the reverse the effects of the global recession through stimulus measures that benefit both countries; developing clean energy technologies; and international peace and security, particularly in Afghanistan.

Harper extended a warm welcome to Obama, saying Obama's election launched a new stage in Canada-U.S. relations. "It is a relationship between built on our shared values — freedom, democracy and equality of opportunity, epitomized by the president himself," Harper said.

Obama also said he assured Harper that he would not pursue protectionism policies, saying he wanted to "grow trade, not contract it."

"We know that the financial crisis is global, and so our response must be global. The United States and Canada are working closely on a bilateral basis and within the G-8 and G-20 to restore confidence in our financial markets," Obama said. He said Harper has agreed to help with efforts to strengthen the auto industry.

Obama said he did not press Harper to put more troops in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 additional troops there.

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