REVIEW: Article

The United States and Canada: The Strength of Partnership

Canada is arguably our most important bilateral relationship. Our exceptional and unique ties are rooted in a common border that stretches for 5,525 miles, over 200 years of closely interwoven history and culture, our largest economic relationship worldwide, our similar values. We have amazingly intertwined supply chains; we work closely as NATO allies; and partner extensively to address global challenges. As President Obama put it during Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to Washington in March 2016, “Of course, no two nations agree on everything…But in terms of our interests, our values, how we approach the world, few countries match up the way the United States and Canada do.”

Strengthening Ties Through High-Level Engagement

In a relationship as broad and complex as this, we always have some areas of difference but our opportunities vastly outnumber and outweigh our challenges. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assumed office in November 2015, he prioritized the bilateral relationship, and he and President Obama have invested considerable energy in accelerating our cooperation. The two had their first official meeting in November 2015 at the G-20 in Manila, just days after Prime Minister Trudeau was sworn into office. The range of issues they discussed—global security operations, counterterrorism, trade and our shared economy, border issues, and climate change—framed the bilateral and their personal relationship for the Prime Minister’s term and the remainder of the Obama administration. The Prime Minister then made an official visit to Washington in March, the first official visit and state dinner for a Canadian Prime Minister in almost 20 years. Canada returned the hospitality in June, welcoming President Obama to Ottawa for the North American Leaders Summit (NALS) and bilateral events that included an address to a joint session of Parliament.

Beyond the Leaders’ direct engagement and regular and productive Cabinet-level consultations, our officials work together daily across the spectrum of bilateral and multi­lateral issues, conducting thousands of working visits back and forth each year. These regular interactions and our Leaders’ high-level meetings harmonize our work to address environmental threats and climate change; secure commitments to modernize our border; and deepen collaboration on the world’s greatest global challenges, including the refugee crisis, endemic disease and other public health issues, and the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, to name just a few.

A 21st Century Border

With trade in goods and services that exceeded US$ 669 billion in 2015—the larg­est goods and services trade relationship in the world—and approximately 400,000 people crossing the US-Canada border every day, finding the right balance between efficiency and security at the border is crucial for our business communities and people. Recently, we have set the stage for an expanded pre-clearance program, improved information sharing be­tween our security agencies, and committed to adapt and expand bilateral “Trusted Traveler” programs. These agreements will facilitate legitimate trade and travel and strength­en our ability to stop individuals who pose a security threat.

The President and Prime Minister’s March agreement on pre-clearance will expand the program to include two new airports and two rail facilities in Canada. At pre-clearance facilities, travelers clear US customs and immigration in Canada and arrive in the United States as if they were on a domestic flight. The agreement to expand pre-clearance will ease travel between our countries and congestion at US airports, fostering trade and investment, tourism and other people-to-people ties.

The President and Prime Minister also agreed to share our respective “No-Fly” lists and implement a more comprehensive information system on travelers’ entry into and exit from each country, strengthening border security. The agreement to share “No-Fly” lists will give US and Canadian border agencies a better understanding of travelers who present a clear threat, while establishing protections for handling the information and processes to correct inaccurate information. Canada’s commitment to complete the last phase of a coordinated entry-exit system will do much the same, creating a more complete record of who is traveling between our countries.

At the NALS Summit in June, President Obama, Prime Minister Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto discussed additional programs to strengthen our borders and expedite trade and travel. The leaders agreed to launch a single portal applica­tion for all three countries’ “Trusted Traveler” programs to facilitate border crossing for low-risk, pre-screened travelers. Nearly five million people have enrolled in existing bilat­eral programs; the launch of a trilateral version should significantly increase that number.

Addressing Climate Change and the Environment

Recognizing the threat climate change and environmental degradation pose, we have worked closely with Canada over the past year and committed to take ambitious action together. At the 2015 COP-21 in Paris, Prime Minister Trudeau identified the fight against climate change as a top priority and put his strong support behind the Paris Agreement, a major step toward addressing climate change. Climate change was high on the agenda for the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in March, when both leaders re-affirmed their commitment to implement the agreement by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and working with developing countries to help them achieve their Paris commitments. We both committed this year to reduce carbon and methane emissions, phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and set a target to increase clean power to 50 percent of the electricity generated across North America by 2025. As our countries are Arctic nations, we are both enhancing our engagement with indigenous groups, adopting a new science-based leadership model, and working to build a more sustainable Arctic economy on that front line for climate change.

In March, our governments agreed to collaborate with Indigenous and Arctic leaders to incorporate Indigenous groups’ traditional knowledge into decision making, and advance our understanding of climate change and how to best manage its effects. The President and Prime Minister re-affirmed prior commitments to protect at least 17 percent of Arctic land areas and ten percent of marine areas by 2020. We agreed to establish consistent policies for ships operating in the Arctic, taking into account important ecological and cultural areas, vessel traffic patterns, Indigenous and Northern Arctic input, and increased cooperation of our Coast Guards. Both governments also called for a binding international agreement to prevent the opening of unregulated fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean, to preserve living marine resources and promote scientific research in the region.

The Environmental Protection Agency and its counterpart, Environment and Climate Change Canada, agreed to coordinate and strengthen regulations that will reduce oil and gas sector methane emissions by 2025 to 40-45 percent below 2012 levels. Our countries each committed to phase down high global warming potential HFCs by updating public procurement processes to select greener products where possible. We also agreed to strengthen collaboration on clean energy research and development to improve electrical grids, accelerate electric vehicle development and integration, and carbon capture, use, and storage.

Given our shared border, waterways, ecosystems, fisheries, and interests, environ­men­tal issues are a core component of US-Canada relations. Our joint efforts to improve our environment and address climate change demonstrate a strong commitment to leader­ship and cooperation that will remain vital to our collective future.

Cooperation on Global Issues

As allies and partners in global and regional organizations, the United States and Canada work very closely to address some of the world’s greatest challenges. We are partners in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (C-ISIL/Da’esh), allies in NATO, and cooperate closely through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). On other issues, such as Ebola, Zika, and the global refugee crisis, we coordinate to ensure our efforts are complementary, generate synergies, and make our engagement as effective as possible. Our cooperation addresses some of the world’s greatest security, health, and humanitarian challenges.

Immediately following Prime Minister Trudeau’s election, our governments began consultations on how to continue Canada’s contributions to the C-ISIL/Da’esh Coalition. The Prime Minister had made a campaign commitment to discontinue air strikes against ISIL/Da’esh, but to continue supporting the coalition. In February, Canada announced an increase to its complement of ground-based military personnel with a goal of tripling its train, advise, and assist mission; and enhanced capacity-building of institutions in Jordan and Lebanon to enhance stability in the region and deter the spread of violent extremism. The new configuration of Canadian contributions ensured US and Canadian forces continue to work side-by-side to degrade and destroy ISIL/Da’esh. In Eastern Europe, we continue our cooperation in Ukraine and will work together in Latvia after Canada assumes leadership of a battalion there in early 2017 as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence. At NORAD, our cooperation with Canada has been essential to our overall North American defense policy.

Canada and the United States have deepened our partnership to address the Zika virus. During Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to Washington, we committed to combat Zika and other vector-borne diseases via surveillance and laboratory capacity, sharing laboratory specimens, and developing medical counter-measures. We agreed to deploy scientists and public health experts to countries in the region to respond to vector-borne disease outbreaks. Separately, the United States and Canada agreed to coordinate assis­tance under the Global Health Security Agenda, including national plans to meet its targets and external assessments to achieve specific, measurable outcomes in public health.

Canada and the United States have always been leaders in receiving refugees and providing humanitarian assistance. Given the magnitude of the ongoing refugee crisis, we have ramped up our cooperation. Canada co-hosted the President’s Summit on Refugees at the UN General Assembly in September, a role reserved for a handful of countries that are leading efforts on refugee work worldwide. Our governments are working together to engage countries that have not traditionally assisted refugees and encouraging them to receive more refugees, provide new humanitarian assistance, and to create opportunities for refugees to study and work. These initiatives, along with those of other co-hosts, aim to generate at least a 30 percent increase in financing for global appeals and international humanitarian organizations; to double the global number of resettled refugees and those afforded other legal channels of admission; and to increase the number of refugees in school worldwide by one million, and the number of refugees granted the legal right to work by one million.

A Need for Sustained Cooperation, Focus

Over the last year, the United States and Canada have registered significant achieve­ments as a result of President Obama’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s determina­tion to make the most of our relationship and advance our mutual interests. Through our Embassy in Ottawa, we engaged and consulted actively with incoming ministers, and found Canada an eager partner. As the new Canadian government took shape, we listened to its priorities, communicated our interests, identified areas of common concern, and found ways to deepen our cooperation at this promising moment in our relationship.

The results, which include improvements at the border, extensive cooperation on global issues, and significant measures to address climate change and the environment, embody the strength of US-Canada relations and underscore how much we can achieve as neighbors, partners, allies, and friends.

Issue Date


United States Ambassador to Canada