Canada is a member of the United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Chrétien has played an increasingly active role in global politics. His government has supported the expansion of the NATO alliance, favoring the admission of former Cold War enemies Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. He has also given Canada a high profile role in UN peacekeeping efforts, sending troops to more countries than any of its allies. Since 1994, Chrétien has led Canada's provincial premiers and territorial leaders in a series of "Team Canada Missions," designed to open markets for Canadian businesses in various countries. These have included agreements with China and Hong Kong (1994); India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia (1996); South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand (1997); Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile (1998); Japan (1999); Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong (2001); and Russia and Germany (2002).
Chrétien describes Canada's relationship with the United States as his country's most important foreign tie, and has appointed his nephew as ambassador to the United States. Still, Chrétien has kept a safe distance from his southern neighbor. He is careful to avoid the appearance of being too pro-American and not sufficiently protective of Canadians' national interests.
Generally, there is a friendly atmosphere of cooperation across the border. This is most evident with respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This agreement is designed to eliminate all trade barriers between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It was approved by all three countries in 1993 and is being slowly implemented over the next several years. In addition to removing trade barriers, it also allows for disputes to be addressed by resolution panels. This process keeps most conflicts contained and prevents them from becoming openly political. Still, critics of NAFTA contend that Canada is being dwarfed economically by the United States and that the political fragmentation of the country is a result of its deeper economic ties to the United States.
While Canada and the United States generally enjoy friendly relations, there remain points of friction between them. Chrétien has clashed with the United States over fishing rights in Pacific waters off the Canadian coast. He has also been an outspoken critic of American policy toward Cuba. The United States has, since 1996, sought to punish companies from around the world that do business in Cuba. Several Canadian businesspeople have had their visas to enter the United States revoked. Several firms may eventually be the target of lawsuits in U.S. courts, their assets in the United States threatened with seizure. Though the U.S. government imposed an indefinite ban on any lawsuits, Chrétien has threatened retaliation against American firms operating in Canada if Canadian firms are ever sued.
Another issue on which Canada and the United States hold different views is the Kyoto Protocol, an International Agreement calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Canada ratified the agreement in December of 2002, and will be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 94% of its 1990 levels by 2012. Though the treaty was ratified by the federal government, the provincial governments still must implement the regulations called for by the agreement. This process looks to be a politically difficult one, as several provinces have objections to the federal government's Kyoto Plans.
Chrétien has led his country in general support of the War on Terror, initiated in part by U.S. president George W. Bush (in response to the Pentagon and World Trade Center terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001), by dispatching troops to fight in Afghanistan against terrorist al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. However, Chrétien has expressed concern about moving too quickly into war with other countries, such as Iraq. Chrétien has said that he supports action against Iraq only if it is under a UN resolution, and with the objective of eliminating weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., in February 2003, Chrétien observed that much of world questions U.S. motives in its aggressive stance toward Iraq.
Chrétien, in an effort to stimulate growth on the African continent, announced in a 1 October 2002 speech that as of 1 January 2003 Canada will eliminate tariffs and quotas on almost all products from the least developed countries in Africa and elsewhere.