Today, Justin Trudeau joined the presidents of Mexico and the United States to officially sign the new North American trade deal that Trump hopes will replace NAFTA.
TL;DR Trudeau calls the new trade deal "CUSMA" – the Canada, United States, Mexico, Agreement – instead of Trump's preferred name, the USMCA. The subtle difference undermines Trump's claim that the trade deal puts "America first." Trudeau's French also seems to have confused the president.
The ceremony was largely symbolic. Legislative bodies in all three countries need to ratify the deal before most of its provisions go into effect.
Of course, there's no guarantee of that in the United States, where a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives may block the passage of the agreement. That could be really bad for Canada.
But in the meantime, the signing ceremony provided all three leaders the photo-op they so desperately wanted. There has been much debate about the merits of this new deal, particularly for Quebec.
The image of the prime minister and both presidents coming together to sign a document gives them at least the semblance of accomplishment and cooperation.
But it was Justin Trudeau who most used the occassion to his advantage. The Canadian PM used this platform to both proclaim the advantages of the deal and embarrass Trump.
Spectators may have missed this subtle jab at the U.S. president, but Trump definitely heard it. The president is sensitive to any indication of his weakness or undermining of his inflated sense of authority.
Instead of calling the new trade deal by Trump's preferred name, the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA), Trudeau has called it "CUSMA" – the Canada, United States, Mexico Agreement.
We finally have an explanation for why the Canadians & Trudeau have avoided calling the new Nafta deal the "USMCA."— Josh Wingrove (@josh_wingrove) November 30, 2018
They're not calling it that. Instead, Canada calling it CUSMA, putting Canada first in order.
By putting Canada first, Trudeau is challenging Trump's repeated claim that the pact "puts America first." This is merely a rhetorical strategy and has no consequences for the text of the deal, itself. But it's enough to bolster the Liberal government's claim, whether true or untrue, that the agreement is a win for the Canadian economy and workforce.
Trudeau also called the trade deal a "new NAFTA," portraying it as an extension of the agreement that has been in place for over twenty years.
This term directly contradicts Trump's insistence that the "USMCA" completely abandons the provisions of NAFTA, which the president on Twitter today described as "terrible."
Just signed one of the most important, and largest, Trade Deals in U.S. and World History. The United States, Mexico and Canada worked so well together in crafting this great document. The terrible NAFTA will soon be gone. The USMCA will be fantastic for all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2018
Some also pointed out that Trudeau regularly switched between English and French, Canada's two official languages, during a joint press conference, apparently baffling Trump and forcing him to continuously remove and reinstall his earpiece.
I love how @JustinTrudeau is trolling #Trump hard by switching from English to French to English and back to French so Trump has to keep putting in and taking out the earpiece. It also takes him an extra second to realize he’s switched to another language. 👏👏🇨🇦! #Nafta #USMCA pic.twitter.com/M8a7RKSlN4— Taha Meli Arvas (@TahaMArvas) November 30, 2018
It will be months before the future of "CUSMA" is certain. As Canada enters an election year and a new Congress takes over in the United States, the political stakes couldn't be higher.
But today appears to have been a win for Trudeau. At least, that's what he thinks.