Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trump will be ‘tweaking’ US trade relations with Canada

US President Donald Trump on Monday called for "reciprocal" trade with Canada and to build bridges of commerce across the border, but nevertheless vowed to "tweak" the bilateral relationship.

Coming into Monday's meeting with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, trade was one of the main topics on the agenda, and the new Republican leader certainly seemed to tone down his previously harsh rhetoric.

"America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbour like Canada," Trump told a joint press conference with Trudeau at his side, hailing the opportunity to "build even more bridges" of commerce.

"We understand that both of our countries are stronger when we join forces in matters of international commerce," Trump said.

But he nevertheless pledged changes were on the horizon. "We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We will be tweaking it. We will be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries."

For his part, Trudeau said the two nations -- who with Mexico make up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- "will always remain each other's most essential partner."

"Today's conversations have served to reinforce how important that is for both Canadians and Americans," he added.

Throughout his campaign and since his November election, Trump has voiced his determination to put "America first" and rip up NAFTA (a trilateral trade bloc involving Canada, Mexico, and the United States since 1994), which he has said is a "catastrophe" for American jobs.

Renegotiating NAFTA will not be simple and Trudeau, a fervent supporter of free trade, has emphasised the importance of the tripartite pact for his country's economy and warned against protectionism.

Trump has not been specific on how he wants the negotiations to develop.

"When we sit down as we did today and as our teams will be doing in the weeks and months to come, we will be talking about how we can continue to create good jobs for our citizens on both sides of the border," Trudeau said.

The economic ties between America and its northern neighbor, who share the world's longest common border, run deep: three-quarters of Canada's exports go to the US, and Canada is the top destination for exports from about 30 US states.

Polar opposites Trump and Trudeau are a study in contrasts: their path to power, their political stripes, their style -- they could not be more different.

Trudeau, the son of a well-liked prime minister, came to power promising to "provide a positive and good government for Canadians" and enhance the country's image abroad.

Manhattan property mogul Trump won the White House in a shock November election victory over Hillary Clinton after painting a dark picture of a country in turmoil and vowing to put "America first."

Welcomed with great fanfare to Washington nearly a year ago by then President Barack Obama, Trudeau hailed the Democratic president's "leadership" on climate change.

But Trudeau will find it difficult to work with Trump, who counts several climate sceptics in his inner circle and seems determined to undo large parts of his predecessor's legacy.

While the two leaders stressed shared interests during Monday's press conference, their contrasting views were also on display. Responding to questions from reporters, Trump defended his refugee and immigration orders, saying that "we cannot let the wrong people in."

Trudeau, on the other hand, said Canada continues to "pursue our policies of openness."

Trudeau later noted that there have been times when the two countries "have differed in our approaches." But he said "the last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they chose to govern themselves."

The pair do however agree on the massive Keystone XL pipeline project, which would link Canada's oil sands with US Gulf Coast refineries. The project had been blocked by Obama, but has been given the green light by Trump.

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