A good hombre, apparently

GIVE Justin Trudeau credit for emotional intelligence. Paying his first visit to Washington after Donald Trump took office, on February 13th, the Canadian prime minister brought his host the perfect gift: a photograph of the president in his youth with Mr Trudeau’s father, Pierre, a glamorous prime minister of the 1970s. The subtle caress of Mr Trump’s vanity seemed to go down well. Mr Trudeau went home with Mr Trump’s promise that Canada has little to fear from his plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which gives Canada, Mexico and the United States preferential access to each other’s markets.

Before the meeting, the Canadians were nervous. Mr Trump’s repeated threats either to renegotiate NAFTA or to rip it up were aimed almost entirely at Mexico (which, unlike Canada, has a big trade surplus with the United States). Yet Canada has almost as much to lose if the United States rescinds the 23-year-old agreement or demands one-sided revisions. The value of Canada’s trade worldwide is equivalent to 65% of its GDP; the United States buys three-quarters of Canada’s exports. American protectionism could trigger an economic crisis and political turmoil north of the border.

Canadian planning for the meeting went beyond combing the archives for a flattering photo. Mr Trudeau revamped his cabinet last month to take account of the new reality in Washington. Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist who has worked in the United States and knows many of the decision-makers, replaced the cerebral but brusque Stéphane Dion as foreign minister. Before the summit Mr Trudeau dispatched his foreign, finance and defence ministers to Washington.

Canadians do not enjoy watching their prime minister pay court to Mr Trump. Nearly 75% think he will be a bad president, according to a poll published last month. The New Democrats, an opposition party, urged the prime minister to castigate Mr Trump for his ban on refugees (some of whom have crossed into Canada to claim asylum). Mr Trudeau held his tongue, but preserved Canadian dignity by hinting at his disagreement with Mr Trump’s policies.

This artfulness seems to be working. Mr Trump declared America’s trading relations with Canada to be “outstanding” (while those with Mexico remain “extremely unfair”). Tweaks to NAFTA, he said, “will benefit both our countries”. Knowing he prefers bilateral deals, some analysts think he may replace NAFTA with separate accords with Canada and Mexico.

The bonhomie could disappear when Mr Trump defines his policies more clearly. He wants a “buy American” programme, which could discriminate against Canadian exporters. A “border-adjustment tax” on imports, part of a proposed corporate-tax reform, could reduce Canada’s GDP by 1%, reckons the C.D. Howe Institute, a think-tank. That would be poor thanks for Mr Trudeau’s gift.