Trump, Trudeau to 'tweak' trade ties
President Donald Trump said the United States would be "tweaking" its trade relationship with Canada, stopping short of calling for a major realignment in a development likely to please visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump has pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) linking the economies of the United States, Mexico and Canada to make the terms more favourable to Americans.
At a joint news conference with Trudeau after White House talks, Trump said his biggest concern with the Nafta was the US trade relationship with Mexico, which he has frequently accused of stealing American jobs.
"We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We'll be tweaking it," Trump said.
"It's a much less severe situation than what's taking place on the southern border. On the southern border, for many, many years the transaction was not fair to the United States," he said.
Trump said the United States and Canada were stronger when they joined forces in matters of international commerce, and both countries benefited from having more jobs and trade in North America.
"We should coordinate closely - and we will coordinate closely - to protect jobs in our hemisphere and keep wealth on our continent, and to keep everyone safe," Trump said.
Trudeau carefully steered around questions about the Canadian trade relationship with the United States in what was his first meeting with the new president. He said he expected each country to always remain each other's most essential partner. "There have been times where we have differed in our approaches and that's always been done firmly and respectfully. The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves," Trudeau said.
Trump's vow to renegotiate the Nafta has unnerved Canadian officials, even though he has singled out Mexico in his criticism of the free trade deal. Canada sends 75 per cent of its exports to the United States.
Canadians have become more supportive of the Nafta since Trump's election victory on November 8, a poll from the Angus Reid Institute showed on Monday. Forty-four per cent of the 1,508 surveyed said the Nafta had benefited Canada, up from 25 per cent from a poll last June. Trudeau, when asked about Canadian firms' concerns about possible changes to the Nafta, said: "It is a real concern for many Canadians because we know our economy is very dependent on our relationship with the United States."
"Goods and services do cross the border each day... we have to allow this free flow of goods and services and we have to be aware of the integration of our economies."
Trudeau had a strong rapport with former Democratic President Barack Obama, prompting pundits to describe their relationship as a "bromance". Soon after Trump put a hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily banned travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries in an executive order on January 27, citing the need to head off attacks by terrorists, the Canadian prime minister took to Twitter to say refugees were welcome in Canada.
Analysts said Trudeau, who has strong incentives to build a relationship with Trump given rising anti-trade sentiment, is bound to be happy with the first meeting.
"I thought it was a huge, huge win. The worst case scenario is we wound up with an Australia moment, when a relationship that should be on solid ground takes a bad turn," said Carlo Dade, director of the Centre for Trade and Investment Policy at the Canada West Foundation.