Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a dinner in honour of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, on February 11, 2016
Ottawa (Canada) (AFP) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will bring panache and progressivism on his first official visit to Washington, where he and his wife will be guests of honor at a White House state dinner on Thursday.
"There's a buzz in Washington," said Matt Browne, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank in the US capital. "People are really very excited to be around him, speaking with him and learning more about his vision."
Trudeau will be the first Canadian leader to be feted in Washington in almost two decades.
Over the coming days there will be cocktail parties, toasts with champagne, music and celebrities, a wreath-laying at Arlington Cemetery, a Q&A with students, speeches, and more.
As well, the trip presents an opportunity to reset the Canada-US relationship strained under previous administrations.
"It will be refreshing to have some inspirational and issues-based politics rather than bickering," said Browne, contrasting Trudeau's push for diversity, inclusiveness and a progressive economic agenda with recent US presidential debates in which Donald Trump refuted disparaging accusations about his "small hands" and genitals.
"(Railing) against intolerance and politics of fear and division and ideas such as the need for the state to invest in infrastructure and job creation, it's all part of a new progressive agenda that Trudeau is leading, and there's a lot of interest in his vision," said Browne.
But don't expect the Canadian prime minister to hog the spotlight. "There's a keen interest in Sophie too," he observed, referring to Trudeau's wife, the television host Sophie Gregoire.
Trudeau, 44, and Gregoire, 40, were featured on the cover of Vogue magazine's December issue, while The New York Times and The Washington Post recently published flattering portraits of the prime minister.
"Clearly the Trudeaus are a glamor couple, perhaps like the Kennedys, and that adds to the mystique and the buzz around town," Browne said.
- 'Pay attention' -
The Trudeaus will be officially welcomed by US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle at a ceremony on the White House South Lawn on Thursday morning, followed by a luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and finally the big event -- a state dinner that evening (followed by an after party at a swank hotel).
Between courses, Trudeau and Obama are expected to firm up new bilateral agreements on trade and the environment, which are to be announced during the visit.
Ahead of the trip, Canadian public safety and environment ministers have been talking up proposals for tighter fuel emissions standards, promoting greater use of electric cars, regulating upstream oil and gas emissions, sharing border exit and entry records, and expanding US customs preclearance at more Canadian airports.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, travel across the world's longest border has been bogged down by security measures. According to government figures, the number of cars and truck crossings plunged from 97 million in 2000 to 65 million in 2014.
But far more than that, the 120-seat state dinner is a chance to schmooze with shakers and movers.
"It's not just fun," Canadian Senator Art Eggleton, who attended a 1997 state dinner at the White House as trade minister with then prime minister Jean Chretien, told AFP.
"It's an opportunity to get to know each other and build relationships," he said. "The United States is our closest ally and neighbor and by far our biggest trading partner so building relationships is very important."
In an exclusive interview with US television news magazine 60 Minutes, Trudeau said: "Having a little more of an awareness of what's going on in the rest of the world, I think is, is what many Canadians would hope for Americans."
"I think we sometimes like to think that, you know, Americans will pay attention to us from time to time, too," he added.