OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is beefing up its team in the United States as it prepares a full court press to defend Canada's interests in the looming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Sources say the government is creating a new position of deputy ambassador to the U.S. and is filling it with one of this country's foremost trade experts: Kirsten Hillman.
Trade-savvy individuals are also being appointed as consuls general in Atlanta, San Francisco and Seattle and the government is actively considering opening new consulates in other parts of the U.S.
Here at home, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the lead minister on NAFTA, is creating a special council to advise her on all aspects of the trilateral trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico.
The council will have about a dozen members, representing the groups that have the most at stake in the negotiations, which are to begin on Aug. 16 in Washington.
And in a sign that the government is determined to take a unified, non-partisan Team Canada approach to the talks, the council also includes James Moore, a minister of both industry and heritage in Stephen Harper's previous Conservative government, and Brian Topp, a veteran NDP strategist who ran for the federal party leadership in 2012 and who most recently served as chief of staff to Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley.
The advisory council and the new raft of diplomatic appointments to the U.S. are to be announced Wednesday.
Sources, who weren't authorized to speak publicly about the announcement, told The Canadian Press the objective is to assemble the strongest team possible to protect and advance Canada's interests in the NAFTA negotiations.
Dispatching Hillman to Washington to backstop Ambassador David MacNaughton was touted as a particularly critical addition to the team. She was most recently an assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs, where she was responsible for leading Canada's trade negotiations agenda, including exploratory free trade discussions with China and ratification of the Canada-European Union trade agreement.
Hillman was also Canada's chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement among 12 countries, including Canada and the U.S. Although Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP upon becoming president, experts believe much of the content of the deal could wind up being imported into a modernized NAFTA.
The other appointments include:
— Nadia Theodore, consul general to Atlanta. She is another long-time bureaucrat who has specialized in trade negotiations. She also served on Canada's permanent mission to the World Trade Organization. She is currently chief of staff to the deputy minister of international trade at Global Affairs.
The government believes it will prove useful to have a trade expert at the consulate deep in the Republican South, the sources said.
— Rana Sarkar, consul general to San Francisco. He's a former president of the Canada-India Business Council, senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and an entrepreneur who has worked around the world with the global technology community. Sarkar was national director for high-growth markets at KPMG. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for the Liberal nomination in Toronto's Don Valley North riding.
The government hopes Sarkar, who has worked with key high tech companies in California's Silicon Valley in the past, will be able to seize on opportunities to attract investment from them to Canada.
— Brandon Lee, consul general to Seattle. Lee is currently consul general to San Francisco and a long-time bureaucrat at Global Affairs. He has held senior positions at the World Trade Organization and previously worked in the private sector in online banking, telecommunications and information technology — areas that will be on the table during NAFTA negotiations.