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Trump hosts Trudeau for tricky White House talks

13 February 2017   |   6:07 pm
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at the White House Monday for what could be difficult trade and immigration talks with his political opposite, President Donald Trump.

US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at the White House Monday for what could be difficult trade and immigration talks with his political opposite, President Donald Trump.

After striking up a much-flaunted “bromance” with president Barack Obama, the youthful liberal leader is in Washington to woo a septuagenarian Republican, with whom he shares little in common.

The focus of discussions will be Trump’s determination to put “America first” and rip up the North America Free Trade Agreement, as well as differences over immigration.

Trump has followed the dictum that good fences make good neighbors — vowing to increase tariffs on imports and build a wall on the Mexican border and trying to ban migrants from several Muslim-majority nations.

The US-Canadian border remains open, but Trump’s travel ban has called into question the “pre-clearance” system allowing Canadians to clear US Customs and immigration checks at their point of departure.

Trudeau visit got off to an awkward start, when he arrived at the White House early and his limousine was forced to wait on the driveway for around five minutes before Trump came out.

The two men then greeted each other with a handshake and headed into the Oval Office.

Trudeau is the third foreign leader received by the Republican billionaire since he took office on January 20, following meetings with Britain’s Theresa May and Japan’s Shinzo Abe.

The US and Canadian leaders will have lunch and hold a roundtable with businesswomen to discuss women in the workforce. A joint press conference set for 2:00 pm (1900 GMT).

The 45-year-old Canadian prime minister has pledged to speak “frankly and respectfully” with the new occupant of the White House.

“Canada will always stay true to the values that have made us this extraordinary country, a place of openness,” Trudeau said Friday in Yellowknife, the capital of the country’s Northwest Territories.

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.

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

On Friday, he recalled “the fact that millions of good jobs on both sides of our border depend on the smooth flow of goods and services across the border.”

Trump has not been specific on how he wants the talks to develop, but has repeatedly trashed the 23-year-old pact, calling it a “catastrophe” for American jobs and threatening to slap tariffs on imports from Mexico.

– 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 Obama, Trudeau hailed the Democratic president’s “leadership” on climate change.

But it’s clear he will find a quite different take on the issue from Trump, who counts several climate skeptics in his inner circle and seems determined to undo large parts of his predecessor’s legacy.

So far, Trudeau has not commented directly on Trump’s controversial immigration order — which temporarily bans all refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

But he made his stance clear in a tweet posted the day after Trump signed his decree late last month.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau wrote.

The pair do 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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