Trudeau and Trump talk trade, security at G7 summit
The rules prevent the two leaders from talking in any detail about issues that would be on the NAFTA table, so, according to a Canadian government official, neither Trudeau nor Trump once uttered the acronym during their 30-minute information conversation
TAORMINA, Italy — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met one-on-one with Donald Trump Saturday on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Sicily, where they talked all around an elephant in the room the size and shape of North America.
“We talked about how the positive relationship between Canada and the United States is one that we have to enhance and strengthen for the benefit of both of our citizens,” Trudeau told reporters Saturday in the medieval town of Taormina, Italy.
That sounds a lot like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is a growing source of tension between Ottawa and Washington, D.C., as last week Trump began the countdown to renegotiate its terms.
The rules of that 90-day period prevent the two leaders from talking in any detail about issues that would be on the NAFTA table, so, according to a Canadian government official, neither Trudeau nor Trump once uttered the acronym during their 30-minute information conversation.
Trudeau did share, however, that softwood lumber — and the need to keep hammering out a deal — came up as a topic during the chat.
So did the aerospace industry, steel and aluminum and how the economies in both countries are integrated at many different levels, Trudeau said, as he rhymed off what sounded like a greatest-hits list of Canada-U.S. trade irritants.
“We agreed that we need to continue to keep working together constructively to amplify the success that citizens and communities have on both side of our border,” he said.
That the Canada-U.S. trading relationship, named or not, would be the main thrust of a quick chat is no surprise.
In a vaguely worded statement issued Saturday following their meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office said Trudeau and Trump also discussed how important it is for leaders to work together when it comes to confronting challenges facing the world.
That platitude takes on more significance in the context of the G7 summit where Trump and the other six leaders diverged over free trade, climate change and migration policy behind closed doors.
The clashes dominated conversations in and around the summit after the first day wrapped up Friday, with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all singling out, with varying degrees of intensity, the U.S. for getting in the way.
Trudeau, though, took a softer approach.
“I’m not going to lecture another country on what they should do, nor would I have my positions determined by anyone outside of Canada,” he said Saturday.
The careful wording, familiar to anyone who has tried to get Trudeau to speak frankly about anything to do with Trump, belies how reliant Canada is on a good relationship with the U.S.
But it also jibes with talk about Trudeau, who now has the third-most seniority at the G7 table despite this being only his second summit, having helped to find consensus between the leaders, including on the thorny issues of protectionism and the Paris Agreement.
Given the biggest bridge to build was the one between Trump and the other six leaders, observers have also been pointing to the work the Liberal government has been putting into forging ties with the White House as one reason why he was able to take on that role.
John Kirton, director of the G7 Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said Trudeau has been handling the relationship well.
“First, by not falling prey to the Canadian temptation to overtly criticize the president (and) secondly, by not holding Canada up as some alternative model or leader of global opposition,” he said.
Shuvaloy Majumdar, a Munk senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute, said it would be “flattering” for Trudeau to be seen as someone who can act as a facilitator between Trump and the rest of the world.
“Canadian leaders have long been coveted by world leaders for perspectives on America,” said Majumdar, who was a policy adviser to foreign ministers in the previous Conservative government.
“The challenge for the Trudeau government will be to demonstrate credibility through a successful relationship with the US administration, which clearly has yet to be proven.’