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Trudeau at APEC summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks into this weekend's APEC leaders' summit with a chance to smooth over lingering sore feelings with some of Canada's key trading partners on the Pacific Rim.

Trudeau will meet his counterparts from Australia and Japan, and have the opportunity to bump into leaders from the 21 countries in the hallways of the busy summit.

Observers say Japan, Australia and the remainder of an 11-nation Pacific Rim trade pact are still upset over how Trudeau skipped a key meeting last year where the group was expected to agree on a final text.

A deal did arise out of the fracas, namely the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP for short — an outcome the Liberals believe is a sign that all is well among the countries.

Observers say Trudeau's counterparts continue to have hard feelings about last year's incident.

"I still think the APEC summit will be damage repair from the last summit — almost pulling out the (CPTPP) and the Japanese upset with us and the Australians cursing us — so I think there still needs to be some repairing of the relationship," said Carlo Dade, an expert on trade in the Pacific region from the Canada West Foundation.

Canada became one of the first six countries to ratify the CPTPP, giving domestic businesses first crack to gain a foothold in overseas markets. Quickly ratifying the agreement could help mend relationships, Dade said.

Trudeau arrived after dark in this island nation, walking a red carpet at the airport between two lines of traditional dancers before being whisked off to prepare for the opening of the summit on Saturday.

At a news conference Thursday, Trudeau said he planned to talk about expanding trade in the region during the APEC summit.

"There are certainly discussions to be had around the APEC table about how we will continue to strengthen these trade ties," Trudeau said.

"The APEC summit is specifically an economic summit for partnership with Pacific nations and that's exactly what we're going to be focusing on."

Looming over the summit will be an economic tit-for-tat between the world's two biggest economies — the United States and China.

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, who is attending the summit in place of President Donald Trump, is expected to force countries to pick sides as China looks to use the summit to extend its influence to smaller Pacific island nations in attendance.

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, an expert on the Asia-Pacific from before his time in the Senate, said the divide between the two biggest players at APEC poses an existential threat to the trade region APEC was formed to foster. Without the U.S., there is a need for a North American voice to champion trade around the Pacific, Woo said.

"The only country that's able to take up this leadership role...is Canada and it would be important that the prime minister, I think, assumes some of this responsibility," Woo said.

"There is no other player in the Americas that, I think, at this stage has either the will or the means to be a champion for the Asia-Pacific region."



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