By Ian Austen
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada met for the first time Monday with President Donald Trump, attempting to bridge gaps in style and strategy between the two leaders.
Few issues are as high on a Canadian leader’s agenda as the country’s ties with the United States, a warm relationship that was reflected in Trudeau’s unusually close relationship with former President Barack Obama. Many of Trump’s policies, particularly his protectionist stance on trade, are chilling for Canada, which counts on trade with the United States for about 25 percent of its gross domestic product.
A statement issued after the two leaders met suggested that Trudeau had largely succeeded in achieving his goals.
“We affirm the importance of building on this existing strong foundation for trade and investment and further deepening our relationship, with the common goal of strengthening the middle class,” the statement said.
In the statement, the leaders also pledged to continue border security programs that began during the Obama administration, and even endorsed NATO, the military alliance which Trump had previously questioned.
“We are indispensable allies in the defense of North America and other parts of the world, through NATO and other multilateral efforts,” the joint statement said.
In presentation and rhetoric, Trump and Trudeau are poles apart, though the prime minister has carefully avoided direct criticism of Trump and his policies. After the U.S. election, he reorganized his Cabinet to better deal with the change of power in Washington and swiftly sent emissaries to meet with Trump’s advisers. The meeting Monday was to be the first test of the Canadian leader’s effort to at least foster a good working relationship between the two men.
Trudeau said Friday that he would “defend and demonstrate Canadian values” during his face-to-face meeting with the president, but he would do so “respectfully and not from an ideological standpoint.”
Trump greeted Trudeau warmly, a reception similar to the president’s greeting last week to Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. The leaders shook hands heartily when Trudeau arrived at the White House, patting each other on the shoulder with their free hands. Trudeau hoped to avoid the apparent terse treatment showed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia in a phone call late last month.
On Monday, Trudeau presented the president with a framed photograph taken in the 1980s, showing Trump speaking at the head of a table of people including Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former Liberal prime minister of Canada and the current prime minister’s father.
The Cabinet ministers who traveled with Justin Trudeau Monday had prepared for meetings with their U.S. counterparts by emphasizing the importance of the cross-border relationship to Canadians. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, had reminded Trump administration officials that trade between the two countries is roughly in balance, and that Canada is the largest buyer of U.S. exports from 35 states.
“The combination of Canada being smaller and the United States being bigger and the relationship largely being trouble-free means a lot of Americans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Canada,” Freeland said in a recent interview. “Americans are not always fully aware of the economic significance of the relationship.”
If the president raises the question of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau was expected to repeat his earlier comments that Canada would welcome that move. Such a step, however, could test Trudeau’s commitment to internationalist principles if it appeared that Canada would have to abandon Mexico to protect its own interests.
Trudeau made accelerating the entry of Syrian refugees into Canada a priority when he took power in late 2015. He is not expected to lecture Trump about his executive order on immigration, although he could raise issues it may create that could slow cross-border activity.
Canada has long been criticized by previous U.S. presidents for its level of military spending, raising the possibility that the topic will emerge again during the meeting Monday. It seems unlikely, however, that Trudeau will be persuaded to expand that part of his budget.
The two leaders met with several women who are chief executives of companies from both countries to announce that Canada and the United States would set up a cross-border council to advance women into executive roles, and to encourage entrepreneurship.
Trudeau was also scheduled to hold separate meetings with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.