EBay CEO expected to push Trudeau on duty threshold

When the prime minister sits down with the CEO of eBay in San Francisco later today, there is a divisive issue that is expected to come up.

Higher limit would make it cheaper for Canadians to shop online

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his remarks at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics Wednesday, in Chicago, during the first leg in his tour of the western U.S. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with eBay CEO Devin Wenig in San Francisco Thursday evening, they had at least one very divisive issue on their plate.

The online sales giant has been pushing Canada to boost its de minimis threshold — the value of goods Canadians can bring into Canada without incurring duties — which would make it cheaper for Canadians to shop online.

The Trump administration has made a similar demand by including the pitch in its NAFTA wish list, asking Canada to raise the level to $800 from $20.

The de minimis threshold isn't talked about much publicly, even though it affects online shoppers. But two government sources suggest there are no plans to make any changes in the immediate future. One source suggested the issue is too toxic, given the anticipated backlash from Canadian retailers.

Last month, the Retail Council of Canada released a study that suggested hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost if the threshold is raised.

Trudeau addressed the issue in San Francisco Thursday, telling reporters that while the de minimis threshold has become a topic of interest during the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, he would stand up for Canadian interests. 

"I can simply reassure Canadians that, as they well know, I will always stand up for Canadian interests, including the interests of Canadian small businesses. That is something that we will not flinch on in how we move forward on NAFTA."

300 new jobs

Trudeau's meeting with Wenig is just one of several high-profile discussions the prime minister has on his agenda for the day, the second of his four-day trip to the U.S.

Trudeau is using the trip to promote NAFTA and look for new investment opportunities.

While in San Francisco, Trudeau also met with the president and co-CEO of AppDirect, Daniel Saks, who announced he would make an investment that would result in "at least 300 jobs in Canada within the next five years," according to a statement.

"This investment supports the Canadian economy and its workforce with plans for an emerging sales office in Toronto and expanding engineering talent in Montreal and Calgary," the statement said.

Trudeau welcomed the announcement, saying the investment "makes sense."

"By opening a new office in Toronto and hiring more engineers in Montreal and Calgary, today`s announcement will mean 300 new good jobs for Canadian workers."

Investing in Canada

Ahead of a Thursday meeting between Trudeau and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, the customer relations management company announced a $2-billion investment in its Canadian wing over the next five years.

The San Francisco-based company said it will increase its headcount and expand its real estate footprint and data centre capacity in Canada.

Salesforce's Canadian clients include Air Canada, Husky Energy, Loblaws, Manulife, Roots, TD Bank and TELUS.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, takes part in a roundtable discussion with Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff Thursday, in San Francisco. Benioff announced a $2 billion investment in Salesforce's Canadian wing over the next five years. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

While in California, Trudeau is shopping an expanding tech sector in places like Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, where companies need executive-level expertise to stay competitive. Canada has also invested millions to attract top talent and researchers away from other countries.

The goal isn't to lure talent away from the region, but to ensure that Canada has a voice in what has become the epicentre of the new economy, said Rana Sarkar, Canada's consul general in San Francisco.

"We are here not to steal jobs from Silicon Valley," Sarkar said in an interview this week. "We are here to co-create with the tech sector here."

During his lunch-hour meeting with a roundtable of tech executives from companies like AirBNB, Eventbrite, Google, PayPal, and Pinterest, Trudeau said companies and governments must consider how technological disruption affects traditional jobs.

"The conversations we're having about how you do things right — how you think about the positive impact, long-term, of the choices that we make — is core to the kinds of conversations we have to be having whether we're in government, or in business," Trudeau said.

Amazon's new headquarters

Trudeau will also meet with Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, as that tech giant searches for a second headquarters. 

Toronto is the only Canadian city among 20 locations in the running to land the $5-billion facility. 

One senior source downplayed the idea Trudeau is using the meeting to aggressively lobby Bezos on Toronto's behalf. The source said that Trudeau would instead use this meeting to highlight other investment opportunities in Canada. 

But speaking to reporters in San Francisco Thursday, Trudeau expressed a hope that the new facility would be built in Canada. 

"The Amazon second headquarters would be a significant boon for any city that got it," Trudeau said. "Toronto is a world class city with an incredible workforce, tremendous diversity, all the kinds of advantages that Amazon has laid out that it is looking for.

"I certainly hope that we get the H2Q hub."

With files from Peter Zimonjic and the Canadian Press