Canada’s Trudeau Steps Up on Trade, as America Under Trump Pulls Back

But hard realities may limit what Mr. Trudeau can achieve. First among them: Canada is, at best, a medium-sized economic power.

“It’s hard to create the carrots to get other countries to come along with you when you’re relatively small,” said Chad P. Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

While Canada is acting logically in seeking new trade partners, Mr. Brown added, “unfortunately it is unclear how much leadership they’ll be able to show in terms of getting other countries to open up, taking over the mantle from the United States.”

Above all, economists and trade analysts almost universally agree that because of geography and economic ties, Canada’s trade will continue to be dominated by the United States, regardless of the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is now being renegotiated.

“We have to be realistic,” said Dominique Anglade, the deputy premier of Quebec and its cabinet minister responsible for trade. “You can’t say that something will replace the United States.”

Still, there’s a broad consensus among Canadians that their country benefits from open trade, making Mr. Trudeau’s program relatively easy to sell politically. No mainstream party in export-dependent Canada echoes the protectionist views of Mr. Trump, who was carried into office on a wave of doubt about whether past trade policy had helped American workers.

Since World War II, the United States has led the world in championing free trade. Washington played the leading role in designing a system of global trading rules, persuading other countries to lower barriers and forging pacts that allowed American companies to expand globally.

Obama administration officials envisioned the United States as being at the center of several overlapping trade agreements: Nafta as well as new agreements with Europe and 11 other countries along the Pacific Rim. They believed this would encourage manufacturers and other companies to build their businesses in the United States.

“In general, we were the ones leading the rules-based trading system and people were counting on us,” said Wendy Cutler, a former trade negotiator for the United States and current vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “Now we have a serious departure from that philosophy.”

Critics of the Trump administration’s trade policy have pointed to the progress of other…

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