Justin Trudeau hopes to strengthen U.S.-Canada ties when the young liberal leader makes a much-anticipated debut visit to the White House.

US Canada
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Trudeau, who has captured Americans' attention in a way not seen since his father's time, was to meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday and enjoy the honor of a state dinner, the first for a Canadian since 1997.

Accompanying the 44-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on the trip to Washington was his wife, Sophie Gregoire.

"He's going to make a real splash," Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a phone interview.

Freeland, a former U.S.-based news executive, said Canada is "a little bit like the girl next door, absolutely essential, a bedrock relationship, but easy to not focus on because there are so many more troubling and more exotic distractions." But Freeland said Canada needs "Americans to take the relationship seriously," and Trudeau helps put Canada on the radar.

Canada is the United States' largest trading partner, with more than $2 billion worth of goods and services crossing the border every day. About 75 percent of Canada's exports go to the U.S.

Besides trade, the two leaders were expected to seek common ground on environment protection. Before their meeting, the U.S. and Canada said in a statement that they will work to put in place an international agreement in Paris on curbing global warming. They committed to reducing methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent from 2012 levels over the coming decade.

Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from human activities and is much more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide.

Trudeau's father swept into power in 1968 and, with a short interruption, served until 1984. He was often compared to President John F. Kennedy and remains one of the few Canadian politicians known in America.

Tall and fit, Justin Trudeau channels the charisma of his father. He aims to restore his father's legacy as leader of the Liberal Party, which was under siege during 10 years of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper, Trudeau's predecessor.

Harper's relations with Obama were strained over various issues, notably the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the Obama administration rejected last year. The American ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, could not get a meeting with Harper or his Cabinet ministers for months.

But Trudeau's election in October ushered in a new era for Canada's politics that Trudeau, Heyman and others hope will help strengthen relations with the U.S.

"President Obama has only had nine state dinners, so he only has one or two a year. The fact that Canada is his 10th state dinner is a strong demonstration of the U.S.-Canada relationship and the importance to the president," Heyman said in an interview. "These are two leaders who have very similar goals and philosophies."

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