Chretien, Bush Able to Find Common Ground in Free Trade

Article excerpt

Canadian liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien and U.S. conservative President Bush signaled yesterday they could find common ground, agreeing on the importance of free trade despite their considerable differences of political philosophy.

"The biggest challenge in U.S.-Canada relations will be convincing Congress to pass a hemispheric free-trade agreement," Mr. Bush told reporters after the two men met at the White House last night.

"We're going to have a summit in Quebec [in April] and I'm looking forward to being hosted by the prime minister," Mr. Bush said. "And the whole notion is to promote free trade and open markets around the hemisphere."

Despite an obvious fondness for former President Bill Clinton, and an implicit preference for former Democratic Vice President Al Gore to have won the presidency, Mr. Chretien made clear his willingness to work with the new Republican president.

After the 40-minute meeting at the Oval Office, he publicly wished Mr. Bush good luck.

Earlier in the day, he said he and the president could work together to promote trade.

"Many look upon the powerful forces of economic globalization and technological change as the source of these profound problems" such as poverty and political instability, Mr. Chretien said in a speech to the Organization of American States (OAS) hours before meeting with Mr. Bush. "But Canada looks upon them as the key to solving them, to creating untold opportunities and shared prosperity from Tierra Del Fuego to Baffin Island."

Mr. Chretien, who won a rare third straight national election in the midst of the muddled U.S. election process that propelled Mr. Bush into office, was far more comfortable with the liberal and internationalist policies of the Clinton administration than with Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservatism."

The sharp philosophical disagreements had led many to guess that the relationship between Canada and the United States, perhaps the most open and least hostile in the world, would become more thorny.

Besides embracing economic globalization and a Western Hemispheric free-trade zone, there are other areas of potential agreement between the two leaders. …