Trump, Canada’s Trudeau Talk Trade and China at White House Meeting

June 20, 2019 by Dan McCue
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House Thursday, to talk trade and their respective issues with China on a day otherwise dominated by concerns over an escalation in hostilities between the U.S. and Iran.

Even as he stepped out of the West Wing to greet the black Chevrolet Suburban carrying his guest, Trump was unable to escape the subject of Iran, which several hours earlier shot down a U.S. surveillance drone near the Persian Gulf.

When one reporter among the phalanx of journalists who had turned up to cover Trudeau asked the president about a U.S. response, Trump responded coolly, “You’ll find out soon enough.”

Later, the president said more pointedly that “Iran made a very big mistake” in shooting the drone down.

When Trudeau arrived, the two men greeted each other and quickly made their way into the White House, ignoring the shouted follow up questions from the reporters they left sweltering outside.

But if Iran weighed on the president, the meeting between he and Trudeau focused on what each hoped the other could do for him.

In Trump’s case, that meant hoping Trudeau could convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  to allow a vote on the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

Pelosi, with whom Trudeau was scheduled to meet immediately after he left the White House, insists a number of changes to the deal are needed to garner Democratic support. She currently has a working group meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to find ways to ease those concerns.

“I think Nancy Pelosi is going to do the right thing,” Trump said before he and Trudeau met for more than an hour behind the closed doors of the Oval Office.

He went on to describe the deal, which would replace the 25-year-old NAFTA agreement if enacted, as “great for everybody.”

He then went on to suggest, that politics rather than legitimate concerns is keeping the House from ratifying the trade agreement.

“The day after the election it would win with tremendous support, but we have an election coming up,” the president said.

So far, Mexico is the only one of the three nations that negotiated the deal to actually ratify it.

Thursday was the final day of the Canadian Parliament’s current term, though members of Trudeau’s entourage privately told reporters at the White House that Trudeau could call them back for a special session to vote for the trade deal if it seemed likely the U.S. House would do the same.

Trudeau has reason to want to move quickly. Canada is holding parliamentary elections on October 21, and while it’s unlikely, it is possible an anti-USMCA faction could gain enough seats to kill the agreement.

Asked if Canadian lawmakers have concerns about voting for a deal the U.S. Congress might then change, officials travelling with Trudeau said no.

“Most of the changes the House Democrats are seeking really apply to Mexico and would have little impact on Canada and how it is positioned in the deal,” one official said, speaking on background.

“Then again, there are people who would be upset if the Democrats made substantial changes, after all, a deal is a deal,” the official said.

Trump said Trudeau’s going up to Capitol Hill to speak to Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress about ratifying the new NAFTA is “a good thing.”

Asked whether he solicited Trudeau’s help with Congress by promising not to levy more tariffs on Canadian goods in the future, the president paused and almost seemed surprised by the suggestion.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said. “I really do believe that at the end of the day Nancy Pelosi and the House will approve it, and I think the Senate will approve it rapidly.”

Trump also predicted support for the deal will ultimately be “very bipartisan.”

It quickly became clear Thursday that what the Canadian prime minister most wants is for Trump to intervene with the Chinese on behalf of two Canadian citizens who are being held on charges of stealing state secrets.

Trump, who will be meeting one-on-one with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan later this month, said he would happily take up the Canadians’ cause “at Justin’s request.”

Trump said he will represent Trudeau “well.”

“It’s obviously on the big transaction that we’re talking about and negotiating,” Trump said, referring to the United States’ ongoing trade war with China. “But anything that I can do to help Canada I will be doing.”

Chinese officials have accused Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor with stealing state secrets for a foreign organization, a serious allegation which in its most extreme cases can result in the death penalty.

Kovrig and Spavor were detained in December, it was then seen as an effort to pressure Canada to release Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei. She was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities who want her to face fraud charges in the U.S.

Canada has called for the release of Kovrig and Spavor for months, but to no avail.

Trudeau’s visit hasn’t been all work. On Wednesday night, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. held a small reception in the prime minister’s honor.

Among the more than 50 people that attended were several members of Congress, Trump adviser Kelly Anne Conway, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, and Mexico’s ambassador in Washington.

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