Washington, Feb 14: US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday expressed their willingness to work together and build "bridges" to improve bilateral trade, at the same time that they made clear their deep differences on immigration and accepting refugees.
The two leaders held their first bilateral meeting since Trump took office on January 20 and afterwards offered a joint press conference at the White House, albeit one at which few details were provided regarding how and on what they will cooperate in the coming months, EFE news reported.
Trump did say -- in response to a question about his promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by the US, Canada and Mexico more than 20 years ago -- that US trade with Canada is "outstanding" and that "we're going to work together to make it even better".
"We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We'll be tweaking it. We'll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries. It's a much less severe situation than what's taking place on the southern border," EFE news quoted Trump as saying. In the case of Mexico, the President said that "on the southern border, for many, many years, the transaction was not fair to the United States."
"We're going to work with Mexico, we're going to make it a fair deal for both parties," added Trump, emphasising that "we're going to get that worked out. We're going to make it fair, but ... so that everybody is happy."
In Canada, both conservatives and liberals feel that NAFTA, implemented in 1994, has been a key element in their country's economic well-being by enhancing trade between Ottawa and Washington to the point where they are now the world's two top trade partners.
At the press conference, Trudeau emphasised that "millions of good, middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on this crucial partnership." The potential renegotiation of NAFTA "is a real concern for many Canadians because we know that our economy is very dependent on our bonds, our relationship with the United States," Trudeau said.
On the other hand, Trudeau made clear that he is not going to "lecture" Trump about immigration and security policies, but he also said that Canada will "continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration, refugees, without compromising security."
The premier said that Canada has taken in more than 40,000 Syrian refugees without compromising national security, a situation that stands in contrast to Trump's recent immigration and travel ban, now temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court.
That executive order suspends for 120 days the entry of refugees into the US and for 90 days the issuing of visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations with histories of terrorism.
In justifying that measure, Trump said on Monday that "we cannot let the wrong people in, and I will not allow that to happen during this administration," adding that he is being "praised" for his immigration stance.
Both leaders emphasised the long-standing friendly ties between the US and Canada, and Trudeau stated that the two nations will continue to enjoy the "effective integration" of their two economies.