Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departed for Washington D.C. on Monday where he will meet with President Donald Trump. (Feb. 13)
WASHINGTON — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House on Monday for talks with President Trump that will likely focus on one of the latter’s biggest campaign targets: NAFTA.
Trump’s pledge to re-work the North American Free Trade Agreement — or void it altogether if he does not get satisfactory concessions — hovered over his first face-to-face meeting with the leader of the United States’ northern neighbor.
The two leaders declined to characterize their talks in detail, pending a news conference later on Monday.
On the campaign trail, Trump regularly attacked NAFTA as a bad trade deal that sent U.S. jobs to Mexico and Canada.
“President Trump is committed to renegotiating NAFTA,” said a White House statement announcing withdrawal from a proposed major trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”
The new president has already clashed with the other NAFTA partner, Mexico, though much of that involves Trump’s planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trudeau has signaled he is open to re-working NAFTA, but also defended the two-decade-old pact as a victory for all sides.
“Strong Canada-US ties help the middle class in both our countries,” the prime minister tweeted last week. “Monday, I’ll meet @realDonaldTrump in DC to keep working for that goal.”
Trump, 70, and Trudeau, 45, are virtual polar opposites politically. Trudeau leads the Liberal Party of Canada, half his Cabinet is female and he is a backer of free trade. Canada has also accepted 40,000 Syrian refugees.
Trump’s immigration order — temporarily stayed by a federal court panel — would bar any Syrian refugees from traveling to the United States, only two of his 16 official Cabinet picks are women, and he has signaled he will take a more protectionist stance on trade.
Trudeau, the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, arrived at the White House shortly before 11 a.m. ET.
After an Oval Office meeting, Trump and Trudeau attended what each side billed as a major act of bilateral cooperation: A “roundtable discussion” on “the advancement of women entrepreneurs and business leaders.” Presidential daughter Ivanka Trump, who has made women’s issues a major part of her portfolio, will also participate.
The president and prime minister announce creation of a permanent “United States-Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs.”
Trump said “we need to make it easier” for women to create and lead businesses, while Trudeau talked about bringing down “significant barriers” to women entrepreneurs.
The president and prime minister also have a “working lunch” prior to the news conference at which trade is again expected to become a major topic.
Trade with Canada totaled an estimated $662.7 billion last year, according to the U.S. Trade Representative. The United States exported $337.3 billion worth of goods and services and imported $325.4 billion worth.
Trudeau visited the White House last March, when he and then-President Barack Obama announced a new border agreement aimed at streamlining regulations and reducing bottlenecks at border crossings.
Trudeau joked during the visit that Canada would welcome Americans seeking to flee the United States if Trump was elected, but he was more diplomatic about the prospect of a Trump presidency at a White House press conference.
“The relationship, the friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies,” Trudeau said. “I have tremendous confidence in the American people and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.”
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