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Donald Trump

Trudeau and Trump, political polar opposites, seek common ground for Canada-US ties

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 1:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 7:58am

President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed their commitment to working together after their first face-to-face meeting.

The neighbouring leaders, polar opposites in nearly every way, were taking up the thorny subject of trade Monday, with Trudeau eager to build a relationship with the new US president.

At a joint press conference after a series of meetings, the two emphasised their shared goals. Trump pledged to work with Canada “in pursuit of our many shared interests.” Trudeau spoke of a special bond and the “deep abiding respect” between the two countries, though he also said that “relationships between neighbours are pretty complex.”

Trump greeted Trudeau with a firm handshake as he arrived at the White House on a blustery morning. The two posed silently before reporters, until Trump suggested they shake hands for the cameras. Trudeau did bring a personal gift — a photo of Trump with Trudeau’s father, the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Trump said he knew and respected Pierre Trudeau and would keep the photo in a “very special place.”

Trump said in a tweet:

At a roundtable discussion with female executives from the United States and Canada, Trump and Trudeau announced a task force focused on women in the workforce. Trump said it was important to ensure the economy is a place where “women can work and thrive.” Trudeau stressed that women have had to overcome barriers to succeed in business.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump was in attendance at the meeting and helped recruit participants and set the agenda. The high-profile meeting is evidence of her rising policy influence.

The prime minister’s plane landed at Dulles airport after heavy winds forced a change from Andrews Air Force Base.

Trudeau, age 45, and Trump, age 70, have vastly different outlooks of the world.

Trudeau is a liberal who champions free trade and has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees. He calls himself a feminist and his Cabinet is 50 per cent women. Trump has few women in his Cabinet. He has taken a protectionist stance on trade and wants to crack down on the inflow of migrants and refugees.

Trump’s order to temporarily halt entry into the US by people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, which is tied up in court, might come up during his bilateral meeting with Trudeau. But Trudeau is expected to focus on common economic interests.

Relations with the US are crucial as more than 75 per cent of Canada’s exports go to the US, while 18 per cent of US exports go to Canada. There are fears among Canadians that they could be hurt as Trump targets Mexico in a re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A White House official and a senior Canadian government official said the two countries had planned to launch a new task force called the United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who has been an advocate for policies benefiting working women, was involved in recruiting participants and setting the agenda for the roundtable. Female executives from the United States and Canada are expected to participate.

Trudeau’s close cooperation with Trump and the first daughter could ease some worries among Canadians that the US president will enact protectionist measures that could hurt the Canadian economy. It could also alleviate some fears that Trump will be as combative with Trudeau as he has been with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

The Canadian official said Trudeau’s administration had suggested the task force, because the prime minister considers the issue of working women an important part of his agenda and economic growth plan.

Trudeau says Canada welcomes refugees as Trump shuts door to US

“It’s a smart thing if Canada proposed this,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto. “It takes attention off of NAFTA. And from Trump’s point of view, it contributes to softening Trump’s image, and he’s got a problem with women.”

Roland Paris, a former senior foreign policy official, said the prime minister needs to build a relationship with Trump to ensure Canada is not shut out economically.

“The overriding priority will be for Canada to maintain secure and reliable access to the US market and the supply chains that crisscross the border,” Paris said.

Trudeau, whose father was the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has been preparing for the Trump meeting for months. He will also meet with legislative leaders on Capitol Hill.