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A Grown-Up Bromance? First Biden/Trudeau Talks Long On Policy

February 24, 2021 by TWN Staff
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a virtual bilateral meeting, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – If ever there was a sign that a new sheriff is in town in the nation’s Capitol, it was the tenor of President Joe Biden’s first bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Though the coronavirus forced the two leaders to convene virtually Tuesday rather than gathering with customary Oval Office fanfare, the cordiality between the two men was a marked departure from the recent past.

Trudeau had been one of the world leaders who tried to work with former President Trump, but who, like his counterparts, quickly found the experience wanting.

In 2018, Trump famously dismissed the Canadian leader as “dishonest and weak” after Trudeau objected to the U.S. raising tariffs on steel and aluminum, and Trump attacked the prime minister again in 2019, calling him “two-faced” after Trudeau was caught on video poking fun at the President as he spoke to other world leaders at a NATO conference at Buckingham Palace.

In contrast, Biden, speaking from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, and Trudeau, from the prime minister’s office in Ottawa, couldn’t have been friendlier as they delivered opening remarks.

“The United States has no closer friend, no closer friend, than Canada,” Biden said.

For his part, Trudeau observed that “U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years.”

He added: “I have to say as we were preparing the joint rollout of the communiqué on this, it’s nice when the Americans are not pulling out all the references to climate change and instead adding them in,” a reference to the U.S. signing back on the Paris Climate Accord.

Aside from recementing an historic alliance, the two leaders agreed to a “road map” outlining how the neighboring countries will work together to fight COVID-19, curb climate emissions and pursue other shared priorities.

“The Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership announced today establishes a blueprint for an ambitious and whole-of- government effort against the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of our mutual prosperity,” they said in a joint statement. “It creates a partnership on climate change, advances global health security, bolsters cooperation on defense and security, and it reaffirms a shared commitment to diversity, equity, and justice. Bound by history and geography, the partnership between the United States and Canada endures because we invest in each other’s success.”

The road map spelled out agreement between the two nations in six key areas.

Combating COVID-19

The top priority of the president and the prime minister is to end the COVID-19 pandemic. They agreed to strengthen comprehensive and cross-sectoral efforts to control the pandemic, collaborate on public health responses, and build resilience against future outbreaks.

Building Back Better

The two leaders share a vision for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery that strengthens the middle class, creates more opportunities for hard working people to join it, and ensures people have good jobs and careers on both sides of the border. They also recognized the opportunity for clean growth driven by workers, communities, businesses, and innovation.

Accelerating Climate Ambitions

The president and the prime minister expressed their commitment to strengthened implementation of the Paris Agreement, including by working together and with others to increase the scale and speed of action to address the climate crisis and better protect nature.

Advancing Diversity and Inclusion

The leaders discussed their shared commitment to addressing systemic racism, unconscious bias, gender-based discrimination, barriers for persons with disabilities, and all other forms of discrimination and exclusion.

Bolstering Security and Defense

The president and the prime minister agreed that collective security is a shared responsibility.

Building Global Alliances

The leaders also affirmed their shared commitment to addressing global challenges, and reiterated their firm commitment to the United Nations, G7 and G20 as well as NATO, the WTO, and the Five Eyes community.

One area the two men apparently haven’t reached an agreement on is Canada buying coronavirus vaccines produced in the U.S.

Some Work Still to Be Done

Trudeau is said to have raised the issue with Biden privately on Tuesday, noting that Canada is struggling to vaccinate its population with vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna plants in Europe.

Trudeau also brought up the issue when the two leaders spoke by phone last month, Biden’s first call to a foreign leader as president. But Biden’s “first priority” remains “ensuring every American is vaccinated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the meeting.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement that Biden and Trudeau discussed how the pandemic “will not end until everyone, everywhere has access to a vaccine” and “the importance of avoiding measures that may constrain the critical trade and supply-chain security between our countries.”

Neither leader in public remarks mentioned differences over Biden’s decision to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a transcontinental project that was to bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The Keystone decision came up in the talks with Biden standing by his decision to stop the project as he promised to do during his campaign, according to the Canadian government official.

Trudeau, who supported the project, expressed his disappointment with Biden’s decision when the two spoke by phone last month.

The Canadian side also raised concerns about the “Buy American” executive order that Biden signed during his first week in office. It is designed to encourage the federal government to spend more of the roughly $600 billion earmarked for procurement to boost U.S. factories and hiring.

Biden previously said that as part of the push he was creating a “Made in America” office to evaluate contracts and make sure waivers are used only in “very limited circumstances.” The issue is crucial to Canada since the U.S. accounts for about 75% of its exports.

White House officials say no decisions have been made on waivers.

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