Trudeau, Reagan hope to patch up US-Canada relations

Few national leaders could be more different than US President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The two sit down here March 10 and 11 for talks that Canadians hope will mend the increasingly threadbare fabric of US-Canada relations.

In contrast to Mr. Reagan's inexperience on the national and world stages, Mr. Trudeau has been prime minister for most of the past 13 years, ranking him as the dean of Western heads of state.

Mr. Trudeau is a fixture at high-level gatherings of industrialized countries , and he has dealt personally with Mr. Reagan's immediate predecessors, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

Born into a wealthy family in the province of Quebec, Mr. Trudeau is fluent in French and English. He is classically educated, holding degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics, and has an internationalist perspective that has recently led him to champion the cause of improved relations between rich and poor nations.

If those attributes do not markedly distinguish Mr. Trudeau from the plain-spoken, thoroughly American US President, the two men are even further apart politically.

Mr. Reagan's staunchly conservative, less-government-the-better creed differs widely from that of Mr. Trudeau, who has presided over a vast expansion of the Canadian government's activities, particularly in social services, during the past decade.

"They're so different in so many ways, they'll have a heck of a time getting along at all," said a Canadian journalist.

Although Canadian-US relations have been on the whole remarkably harmonious over the past half-century, there have been many ups and downs. In recent years , mr. Trudeau has not shied from positions that have made waves with Canada's southern neighbor.

In seeking to distance Canadian policies from those of Washington in the past decade, Mr. Trudeau's governments have cut back oil exports to the US; recognized the People's Republic of China in 1968; instituted a federal agency to review foreign (mainly American) investment in Canada; criticized US involvement in Vietnam; and undertook a long-term policy -- unsuccessful, as it turned out -- to diversify Canadian political and economic relations away from the United States.

In the past four years, Canadians have felt that their country, despite being America's most important trading partner, was being neglected by an administration fixated on events outside this hemisphere. Mr. Reagan's visit is the first by an American president in nine years. Altogether, it appears the two leaders have a lot to catch up on and a great deal to overcome if they are to turn things around.

At the top of the US government's list of concerns is the Canadian effort to limit to US investment in Canada. American corporate interests dominate many key sectors of the Canadian economy, and the Trudeau government is committed to a course of action allowing Canadians to win back large segments of these industries.

This is most pronounced in the oil industry. Washington has already issued behind-the-scenes complaints to Canada about recently announced Liberal plans to provide special incentives to Canadian oil and gas firms and buy out foreign interests.

Mr. Reagan is also expected to explain to Canada that his tightfisted spending approach will affect the US economy to which the smaller Canadian economy is inextricably linked.

From Canada's viewpoint, the most urgent concern is fisheries management. For almost two years, the US Senate has declined to ratify an east coast fisheries agreement signed by Washington and Ottawa. Canada is also very worried about environmental issues, principally acid rain that is destroying lakes on both sides of the border, and pollution of the Great Lakes.

Canadian officials charge that the US government protection rules aren't far-reaching enough and fear that under Reagan's cost-cutting regime, antipollution efforts may be played down even further.

Also on the agenda will be the auto pact, the free-trade agreement in vehicles and parts between the two countries. Canada has in recent years run a large deficit under the pact. But, with automakers in both countries in trouble , Mr. Trudeau said recently he doubted the time was right for Canada to change the pact.

On the present US foreign affairs preoccupation -- El Salvador -- Mr. Reagan can expect only lukewarm support from Mr. Trudeau. Canada's position so far has been limited to disapproving arms shipments to the war-torn nation by any foreign countries.

And Mr. Trudeau's avowed concern for a better dialogue between rich and poor nations may put him at odds with the US President.

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