Trade, energy top Obama agenda in first Canada trip

Tue Feb 17, 2009 6:56pm EST
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By Jeff Mason and Ross Colvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade, energy and the global economic crisis will top the agenda of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Canada on Thursday, his first foreign trip since taking office last month.

Concerns about U.S. trade protectionism and plans to fight climate change will also feature during Obama's one-day visit, which includes meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Canadian Parliament.

Analysts said the two leaders would spend time getting to know each other while possibly touching on sensitive issues such as Canada's troop presence in Afghanistan and the U.S. imprisonment of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama plans to close the U.S. prison there.

But the deepening economic downturn, which both countries are struggling to contain, would get the most attention at the talks, U.S. officials said.

"He (Obama) recognizes that there is no larger trading or important economic partner for the United States than Canada, and that will be the primary issue that they will discuss, namely the economy," senior Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.

Obama made waves during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary by suggesting his support for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which groups Canada, the United States and Mexico.

He backed off that pledge during the general election and analysts said Canada viewed the rhetoric as political maneuvering.

McDonough said Obama still believed that NAFTA's environmental and labor provisions should be strengthened, a demand of trade unions who backed his White House campaign.   Continued...

<p>President Barack Obama returns from a weekend visit in Chicago to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, February 16, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst</p>