The Calm Before the Storm: Canadian and American Visionaries Gather at Meridian in Advance of G7 Fallout

The salon-style dinner included four previous U.S. Ambassadors to Canada (left to right): Meridian President and CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday, David Jacobson (2009-2013), David Wilkins (2005-2009), Gordon Giffin (1997-2001), Governor Jim Blanchard (1993-1996), and Coca-Cola North America Public Affairs and Communications Senior Vice President Matt Echols. Photo credit: Stephen Bobb

When U.S. and Canadian leaders gathered on Meridian’s campus on May 23, NAFTA renegotiations were the central point of focus with a look toward the upcoming G7 as a chance to reestablish the strong link between the North American neighbor nations. The June 1 expiration date on Canada and Mexico’s exemption status from U.S.-imposed steel and aluminum tariffs were little more than a footnote indicating the consensus among participants that the exemption would be extended. Certainly, no one anticipated the strong and fiery rhetoric elicited by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump at the close out of the G7 Summit on June 9. Yet, some of the main recommendations and takeaways from the May gathering remain valid, if not more important, following the U.S.-Canada turmoil of the past few weeks.

Co-hosted by Meridian International Center and The Coca-Cola Company as the kick-off event of the U.S.-Canada Shared Priorities for a Sustainable Future program, 25 U.S. and Canadian visionaries converged on Washington, DC for a salon-style dinner focused on the state of U.S.-Canadian relations. The common theme throughout the evening was that the bilateral relationship remained strong and integrated through numerous and wide-ranging U.S.-Canada partnerships from businesses, NGOs, academia and state and local governments through the working level of national governments. This sentiment was echoed by both the State Department and Commerce Department officials in attendance as well as the Canadian Embassy and NGO leaders represented. Instead, their concern was the general public’s lack of basic awareness of any cross-border collaboration in either nation. The journalists in attendance posed no solution to that dilemma as their readership tend to be uninterested in articles focusing on U.S.-Canada relations beyond the major headlines.

The recommendation garnering the most attention, especially among the academic and think tank representatives, was the reestablishment of the "North American Committee." Comprised of business, labor, and university leaders from both countries (as well as Mexico following NAFTA), this group included the business leadership that helped drive through the Auto-Pact and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Once NAFTA was established, however, leaders from both nations believed trade was no longer an issue between Canada and the U.S. and the Committee dissolved. With heightened tensions caused by trade throughout the continent, a reincarnation of the North American Committee is worth strong consideration.

Four former U.S. Ambassadors to Canada were among those in attendance: Governor Jim Blanchard (1993-1996), Gordon Giffin (1997-2001), David Wilkins (2005-2009), and David Jacobson (2009-2013). Other participants included: Matt Echols, Senior Vice President, Coca-Cola North America Public Affairs and Communications; Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President and CEO, Meridian International Center; John Andersen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, International Trade Administration, United States Department of Commerce; Victoria C. Christiansen, Interim Chief, U.S. Forest Service; Daniel Dale, Washington Correspondent, Toronto Star; Dr. Charles Doran, Director of Canadian Studies, Johns Hopkins University SAIS; Scotty Greenwood, CEO, Canadian-American Business Council; Cynthia Kierscht Director, Office of Canadian Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Stuart Levenbach, Chief of Staff, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Ron Soreanu, Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications, The Coca-Cola Company (Canada); Nadia Theodore, Consulate General of Canada in Atlanta; and, Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, Senior Policy Advisor, Ocean Conservancy. Meridian and Coca-Cola will co-host the next segment of the U.S.-Canada Shared Priorities for a Sustainable Future program in Ottawa in late November 2018.

Project Partner

The Coca-Cola Company

Project summary

The Calm Before the Storm: Canadian and American Visionaries Gather at Meridian in Advance of G7 Fallout | May 2018
Number of Attendees: 25
Regions: Western Hemisphere
Countries: Canada, United States
Impact Areas: Business and Trade, Energy and the Environment, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Diplomacy
Partners: Private Sector