Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will use a meeting with President Joe Biden to stress that keeping up the smooth flow of goods across the Canada-U.S. border is in the best interests of both countries.
Trudeau said Wednesday that when supply chains around the world are crunched because of COVID-19 and people are wondering how they’re going to acquire things they need, the U.S. “could do worse” than rely on its closest friend to ensure resiliency.
“It is a two-way street. We do well when we’re working together,” the prime minister told a question-and-answer session hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
The prime minister arrived in the U.S. capital earlier Wednesday for two days of meetings with U.S. officials and the so-called Three Amigos summit with Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Trudeau told the crowd that his government began talking with the U.S. two or three years ago about Canada’s abundant supply of critical minerals, which are used in batteries for computers, cellphones, electric vehicles and other essential items.
He says Canada can’t compete with some countries when it comes to the low cost of production, because those other nations “don’t care” about environmental or labour standards, but the trade-off is worth it because Canada is a more reliable source.
China is the world’s leading supplier of those minerals and pandemic-induced bottlenecks have created major shortages.
The prime minister also said climate change will be a focus of his discussions with Biden and Lopez Obrador, stressing that his government was able to win two elections after implementing a national price on pollution and there is a need for a global carbon price.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, International Trade Minister Mary Ng and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino joined Trudeau on stage at the Wilson Center event.
Freeland agreed with Trudeau that the world should avoid a “race to the bottom” when it comes to labour standards and she said she looks forward to reinforcing the importance of middle-class jobs in conversations with the Biden administration.
Trudeau was asked about how he would protect the interests of Indigenous Peoples while ramping up extraction of critical minerals. He did not directly answer but said his government is investing in many areas to advance reconciliation, such as working to lift boil-water advisories and reduce the number of Indigenous children in foster care.
“There’s an awful lot of work to do,” he said, adding the pace of change is “too slow” but it must be done in respectful partnership and that always takes a little longer.
Trudeau faces mounting pressure to address Canada’s misaligned COVID-19 border restrictions with his North American counterparts as well.
On Monday, four bipartisan U.S. senators wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to ask Canada to align border restrictions with its southern neighbours, especially when it comes to Canada’s requirement for a negative molecular COVID-19 test for incoming travellers.
“We applaud the steps Canada has taken to ease cross-border travel restrictions and urge the Canadian government to now remove testing requirements for vaccinated travellers and to engage with U.S. authorities regarding any concerns,” wrote senators Amy Klobuchar, Susan Collins, Chuck Schumer and Mike Crapo.
“It is important for both of our nations’ economies that fully vaccinated individuals are able to travel between Canada and the U.S. with ease.”
Business and tourism leaders in Canada echoed the same message at a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday.
“On the eve of the Three Amigos summit, our federal government cannot on the one hand be asking for greater collaboration, co-operation and consistency on trade issues while a different approach to the border itself,” said Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada.
At the same news conference, former deputy prime minister John Manly said it is concerning that Canada’s COVID-19 measures at the border are out of step with the international community.
“Canada needs to align with its North American partners, at least, on standardized reciprocal rules for travel,” said Manly, who served as foreign affairs minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Government officials have promised an announcement on the test measures at the border in the coming days, though they’re not currently expected to do away with the measure entirely.
Rather, the government is expected to phase it out gradually, starting with removing the test requirement for people who are out of the country for less than 72 hours.
“The question that the government will have to answer is, how are you safe in the 72nd hour and you become dangerous in the 73rd? What is the logic of this?” said Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Trudeau will spend most of Wednesday meeting members of Congress before attending a gala in the evening hosted by the Canadian American Business Council.
On Thursday, Trudeau is scheduled to appear in the morning at a local middle school alongside Vice-President Kamala Harris.
He will then hold individual meetings with Lopez Obrador and Biden before three leaders gather for the North American Leaders’ Summit to discuss the challenges facing the continent.
It will be the first meeting of the Three Amigos since 2016, before Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president put the semi-regular gathering on hiatus.
Before the summit, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly met Tuesday with her Mexican counterpart where the two discussed a variety of issues.
Those included recent developments in Central and South America, including the worsening situations in Venezuela and Haiti.
Joly also raised concerns voiced by Canada’s mining and energy industries about proposed changes to Mexico’s energy sector that have stoked fears about a push toward nationalization.
Joly “mentioned that Canada hopes to collaborate with Mexico to resolve this issue and underscored the need to provide certainty to Canadian investors operating in Mexico,” according to a readout provided by Global Affairs Canada.
— The Canadian Press, with files from Laura Osman