WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump struck an amiable, conciliatory note after face-to-face meetings Monday, acknowledging the unique nature of the Canada-U.S. relationship and the need to keep trade moving across a shared, secure border.
Prior to their joint news conference, the two sides issued a joint statement on shared priorities that seemed to suggest the first in-person encounters between the prime minister and the U.S. president had gone well.
“America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbour like Canada,” Trump said.
“We share the same values, we share the love — a truly great love — of freedom…. American and Canadian troops have gone to battle together, fought wars together and forged the special bonds that come when two nations have shed their blood together.”
The lengthy joint statement indicates the two sides have agreed to work on improving labour mobility and trade across the Canada-U.S. border, expand preclearance agreements to cover cargo shipments and work on infrastructure projects in both countries.
It reflects a grasp of a “unique” partnership and a commitment to continue to strengthen ties for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
“No other neighbours in the entire world are as fundamentally linked as we are,” Trudeau said.
“We fought in conflict zones together, negotiated environmental treaties together … and we’ve entered into ground-breaking economic partnerships that have created good jobs for both of our peoples.
“Canadians and Americans alike share a common history, as well as people-to-people ties that make us completely and totally integrated.”
The statement acknowledges that Canada is a vital foreign market for some 35 U.S. states, with more than $2 billion flowing across the border each day.
The statement also acknowledges a shared goal of “moving forward on energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs while respecting the environment.”
It also says the two sides plan to build on a number of areas of environmental co-operation, particularly along the border and the Great Lakes.
Earlier in the day, both leaders smiled and appeared to greet each other warmly as they shook hands at the door to the West Wing before the president ushered the prime minister inside.
Trudeau was accompanied by a who’s who of the Canadian government, including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Trudeau and his senior cabinet ministers are in Washington with one overarching goal: keep Canada out of the U.S president’s protectionist trade crosshairs.
That’s because Trump wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, has mused about a border tax, and could bring back “Buy American” protectionism.
That is widely viewed as a major threat to the more than $2 billion in daily trade that flows across the world’s longest undefended border — the gateway to the biggest trading relationship on the planet.
Trump acknowledged Monday that his bigger concern is the Mexican end of the trade deal, saying that the goal would be to “tweak” those elements affecting Canada in order to better streamline cross-border trade.
Ian Lee, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, said it would be “childish and juvenile and irresponsible” for anyone to think Trudeau’s job is to go to Washington to preach Canadian values to Trump.
“This is a profound misunderstanding of history, a profound misunderstanding of the role of the prime minister of Canada.”
Indeed, Trudeau said as much Monday.
“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” he said.
My role, my responsibility, is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world.”
While setting the tone for a good personal relationship at the executive level will be a key goal of Trudeau’s, he will also be turning his attention to Congress — another key cog in the Canada-U.S. wheel.
Trudeau will meet Paul Ryan, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump and Trudeau have talked on the phone a couple of times since the Nov. 8 presidential election. But the prime minister has steered clear of directly commenting on some of Trump’s controversial statements and actions, such as the ban on travellers from seven Muslim majority countries.
Last week, Trudeau said he would be respectful in broaching areas where the two men disagree, and he pointed out there are issues where he sees eye-to-eye with Trump, such as creating jobs for the middle class.
The federal Liberals have also indicated they are willing to re-negotiate NAFTA, responding to a campaign promise by Trump to ditch the current accord. However, the scope and timing of the talks are not clear because several of Trump’s key cabinet players and officials are not yet in place.