Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump today to seek common ground as uncertainty looms over the future of NAFTA.
Trudeau and Trump are to talk at the White House as round four of negotiations to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement get underway a few kilometres away in Arlington, Va.
Trump has repeatedly signalled he’d rather rip up the deal before renegotiating it, casting a pall over the talks.
Trudeau told a summit for businesswomen in Washington on Tuesday that he sees his meeting with the president as a continuation of their efforts to find ways to mutually benefit both countries.
“President Trump got elected on many of the same goals I got elected on, of making sure that people who don’t feel like the success and growth of the economy has worked for them do better,” he said.
“We don’t always have the same policy prescriptions to do that, but in our desire to help the middle class and those working hard to join it we always find common ground.”
Trudeau will head into his meeting with Trump after talks with the influential House of Representatives’ Ways and Means committee, one of two bodies of U.S. lawmakers helping negotiators put forward the U.S. positions on trade.
The NAFTA talks kick off Wednesday with a discussion of government procurement, already a thorny subject as U.S. negotiators suggested during the last round in Ottawa they want to limit Canadian and Mexican access to U.S. projects.
After that, discussions will move onto developing remedies for trade disputes and on Saturday, the discussions are expected to turn to agriculture.
Trudeau said he sees room for modernizing the deal, but also to make it more progressive.
“Putting progressive elements into trade deals — labour protections, environmental protections — actually helps us make the case for trade and reassure people that the benefits of trade will be distributed more fairly and not just to the small number of people who’ve always benefited from it in the past.”
That Trudeau is in Washington as NAFTA talks resume is something of a coincidence; the trip was originally planned in connection with the summit he attended Tuesday evening.
Prior to delving into trade issues Wednesday, he attended a roundtable discussion with two organizations devoted to empowering women and girls around the world.
Among those in attendance were senior female executives with Google and Twitter, organizations including the Nike Foundation, McKinsey and JPMorgan Chase and Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post.
Trudeau noted the diverse backgrounds and strengths in the group, but said they too often work in isolation.
“We don’t necessarily convene a broad enough group to reach out beyond where we can touch ourselves and being able to break down these silos and pull people together is really important,” he said.
“How we empower women and girls around the world is going to make the defining difference in whether we make it as a 21st century species or not.”
On Thursday, he is to leave for Mexico for his first official visit to that country.
The Canadian Press