BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s tough-talking campaign rhetoric may take a more moderate tone once he takes office and confronts the geopolitical realities of the economic challenges before him, Justin Trudeau suggested Friday.
Throughout his trip through Latin America this week, the prime minister has been dogged by a question being posed to — and by — leaders the world over ever since last week’s U.S. election: what to do about Trump?
First in Cuba and now in Argentina, Trudeau’s response has consistently sought to soothe nerves jangled by the prospect of a belligerent U.S. president bent on limiting his country’s considerable involvement in trade and global affairs.
Candidates say many things on the campaign trail, Trudeau told a business audience during a question-and-answer session at a luncheon in Buenos Aires. Generating economic growth in order to quell rising anxieties, however, demands that countries reach out to potential partners outside their borders, he said.
“The president-elect in the United States certainly heard and felt and drew on the anxiety and the anger that people are feeling about why the economy is not working,” Trudeau told his audience.
“But I am also very, very confident that if you are serious about creating growth that works for the middle class that is struggling, you need to do it through progressive, responsible trade deals.”
He played down lingering concerns about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has promised to renegotiate or abandon entirely if he doesn’t get a deal to his liking.
A leaked memo to CNN reportedly has Trump focusing on changes that focus on softwood lumber and country of origin labelling, two areas where Canada has repeatedly fought for concessions from the Americans.
Trudeau said NAFTA has been amended a dozen times over the past two decades and Canadian officials are always looking at opportunities to strengthen the trade pact.
“During an election campaign there’s an awful lot said, and I think the responsible thing Canadians expect me to do — and that I have always said I will do — is I will work constructively with Mr. Trump on things that we agree on and work through areas in which we disagree.”
Trump’s shadow has extended over Trudeau’s first two stops this week, and will surely continue to loom large after Trudeau travels later Friday to Lima, Peru, for this weekend’s APEC leaders’ summit.
The leaders of the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will meet Saturday at the summit, an event hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump’s vow to pull the U.S. out of the Pacific Rim pact — and Obama’s decision to not push the deal through Congress — is seen by many as its death knell.
Trudeau will be in the room for that meeting.
Trudeau is also scheduled to meet one-on-one with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, the first time the two will meet face-to-face since Trump’s election victory earlier this month. In addition to being NAFTA partners, both Canada and Mexico are signatories to the TPP.
Trudeau is also meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, whose country indicated Thursday that it will shelve its plans to ratify the agreement given the change in administration in Washington.
Trump has said his campaign vows are open to negotiation, but no one is quite sure what the political enigma will do once he assumes office.
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams, who happened to be in the Argentine capital during Trudeau’s visit, said he expects Trump to moderate his positions once in office.
“We have to try and find a way to work with him provided he’s reasonable,” Williams said.
“What I’m seeing in some of the early signs are some reasonableness. I am concerned about his ability to go off the rails and that’s probably the simplest way I can put it.”
Negotiating with Trump would likely require a firm but moderate voice, he added.
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