WASHINGTON — President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed Thursday to streamline and further expand trade and investment, while working aggressively to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change.
The leaders of the two countries, which have enjoyed close diplomatic and economic ties for decades, outlined the topics they discussed in an earlier Oval Office meeting at a press conference in the Rose Garden.
Their meeting came amid the heated U.S. presidential election, where antitrade sentiment has been espoused by candidates from both parties and Obama was forced to address the negative tone on trade, as well as that from Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, were in the nation’s capital for a state visit, the first by a Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades.
The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, of which the U.S. and Canada are part, was among the top items the two leaders discussed.
“We discussed how to move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and today we also reaffirmed our determination to move ahead with an agreement to pre-clear travelers through Immigration and Customs and make it even easier for Canadians and Americans to travel and visit and do business together,” Obama said.
Trade ministers from the two countries, along with Mexico, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Peru, Brunei and Malaysia, signed the TPP in early February. In order for the sweeping trade deal encompassing nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy to be enacted, the respective governments must approve it. In the U.S., where all the presidential candidates have come out against it, TPP must be ratified by Congress.
Nearly 400,000 people and some $2 billion worth of goods and services cross the border between the U.S. and Canada every day, according to the White House. In addition, more than 1.3 million members participate in the Nexus trusted traveler program, facilitating entry into each country for low‑risk, pre-screened travelers.
“We want to make it easier to trade and invest with one another,” Obama said. “America is already the top destination for Canadian exports and Canada is the top market for U.S. exports worth about 1.7 million good-paying American jobs.”
“When so many of our products like autos are built on both sides of the border in integrated supply chains, this co-production makes us more competitive in the economy as a whole,” Obama added. “We want to keep it that way. So we’ve instructed our teams to make it even easier for goods and people to move back and forth across the border, including reducing bottlenecks and streamlining regulations.”
On trade, Trudeau said the U.S. and Canada have “historically been each other’s largest trading partners,” and added that the two leaders “reaffirmed our commitment to streamlining trade between our countries.”
While the U.S. and Canada share close ties and significant trade through the North American Free Trade Agreement, the relationship has been strained at times over trade irritants. One such thorny issue over softwood lumber dating back to 1982 has still not been completely resolved, and Obama and Trudeau said they expect to do so in the coming months.
The push for more free trade and the state visit by Trudeau landed squarely in the middle of a presidential election year, one that has seen candidates from both parties criticize and lambast free-trade agreements and job losses associated with them.
Obama was asked at the press conference if he felt responsible for polarizing the political debate and, as some critics have asserted, creating the space for Donald Trump’s rise, which has been built in part on anti-immigrant and antitrade positions. Trump has called for imposing tariffs on imports from China, even though part of his signature suit collection is made there. He has also railed against Mexico and Japan for taking jobs away from U.S. companies and has gone after countries such as China for undervaluing its currency and making its imports cheaper.
“I believe that there have been bad trade deals on occasion in the past that oftentimes have served the interests of global corporations, but not necessarily served the interests of workers,” Obama said. “But I’m absolutely persuaded that we cannot put up walls around a global economy and that to sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade somehow, your problems would go away, prevents us from actually solving some of the big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base.”
“That’s an area where some traditional conservatives and economists have had some important insights,” Obama added. “But they can’t be presented effectively if it is combined with no interest in helping workers, and busting up unions and providing tax breaks to the wealthy rather than providing help to folks who are working hard and trying to pay the bills. It’s certainly not going to be helped if it’s coupled with vehement anti-immigrant sentiments that betray our values.”
Meanwhile, climate change was also a priority for the North American leaders. Trudeau said he and Obama “share a common goal on addressing climate change.”
“We want a clean-growth economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all of our citizens,” Trudeau said. “I’m confident that by working together, we’ll get there sooner than we think.”
In a statement before their Oval Office meeting, the leaders of the U.S. and Canada said they will work together to implement the international agreement on climate change, aimed at curbing global warning and greenhouse gas emissions, that was reached in Paris in December. They also committed to curbing methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels.