Justin Trudeau has praised Joe Biden for rejoining the Paris climate accord during their first bilateral meeting, saying: “US leadership has been sorely missed over the past years.”
The Canadian prime minister added: “And I have to say as we were preparing the joint rollout of the communique on this, it’s nice when the Americans are not pulling out all the references to climate change and instead adding them in.”
The meeting – held virtually between the Roosevelt Room at the White House and Trudeau in his Ottawa office because of the pandemic – was Biden’s first with a foreign counterpart since taking office,
Biden returned Trudeau’s compliments, saying: “The United States has no closer friend, no closer friend, than Canada.”
After talking for about two hours, the two leaders emerged and said they planned to work closely together to beat the Covid-19 pandemic and combat climate change, with a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Trudeau also thanked Biden for reiterating US support for the release of two Canadians held by China, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. “Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said. “We’re going to work together until we get their safe return.”
It was unclear whether Trudeau raised the idea of allowing Canada, which is struggling to vaccinate its population, to buy vaccines from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Michigan. Canada is getting vaccines shipped from a Pfizer plant in Belgium.
Trudeau brought up the issue when the two leaders spoke by phone last month, Biden’s first call to a foreign leader as president. But Biden’s “first priority” remains “ensuring every American is vaccinated”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the meeting.
Another area of concern for Trudeau is the “Buy American” executive order that Biden signed during his first week in office. It’s designed to encourage the federal government to spend more of the roughly $600bn earmarked for procurement to boost US factories and hiring.
Biden said that as part of the push he was creating a “Made in America” office to evaluate contracts and make sure waivers were used only in “very limited circumstances”, such as when there is an overwhelming national security, humanitarian or emergency need in the US. The issue is crucial to Canada since the US accounts for about 75% of its exports.
“I don’t expect them to make any commitments during the meeting today,” Psaki said on Tuesday when asked about the possibility of Canada receiving a waiver to the “Buy American” order.
Spavor and Kovrig were detained in China following the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada after the US requested her extradition to face charges that the Chinese telecom company executive committed wire and bank fraud and violated US sanctions on Iran. She denies the allegations.
China lashed out at Canada last week for joining the US and 56 other countries in endorsing a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.
Canadian officials expect Trudeau to have a far more productive relationship with Biden than he did with Donald Trump. The Republican president, in a fit of pique in 2018, took to Twitter following a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialised nations to malign the prime minister as “dishonest and weak” after Trudeau voiced objections to Trump raising tariffs on steel and aluminium from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.