OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to meet next month, the prime minister’s office said on Friday, following a call between the two leaders in which they vowed to join forces to combat coronavirus in North America.
Trudeau, who has been keen to embrace the new president and move on from the often tumultuous Donald Trump years, was the first foreign leader to speak with Biden since Wednesday’s inauguration.
The two “recognized that both countries’ fundamental priority is to end the global COVID-19 pandemic,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement. They also discussed collaboration on vaccines.
It is not clear whether the meeting next month will be face to face or virtual, said a Canadian government source who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
The White House said the two leaders highlighted the “strategic importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship” and discussed cooperation on a wide-ranging agenda including combating COVID-19.
“It was a very positive call,” the Canadian source said. “Biden really has a fondness for Canada. He understands that we are a partner and ally of the United States, which is a marked change from the last four years.”
Trudeau and Biden have stressed the need to do more to fight climate change and “they spent quite a about of time talking about that,” the source added.
Trudeau, the source said, raised two contentious topics - Biden’s move to scrap a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the United States and his proposal to introduce a “Buy America” policy that would shut out Canadian firms from lucrative U.S. government projects.
The two neighbors, with one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationships, have highly integrated economies, and Canada fears “Buy America” could hurt badly.
Trudeau “made the point that we should avoid unintended consequences that can hurt both countries,” said the source.
Trudeau reiterated Canada’s disappointment about the pipeline but did not try to change Biden’s mind, the source said. Scrapping the project had been one of the Democrat’s campaign commitments.
The White House statement said Biden acknowledged Trudeau’s disappointment. Pipeline builder TC Energy Corp said it would eliminate more than 1,000 construction jobs in coming weeks due to the cancellation.
The two leaders also agreed to expand cooperation on continental defense and in the Arctic, and said their respective top defense and foreign affairs would be meet at the earliest opportunity, the Canadian statement said.
Trudeau urged Biden to remove duties against Canadian exports of softwood lumber, which U.S. industry has long protested are excessively subsidized. The two nations have been arguing over the exports for decades.
Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Gareth Jones, Daniel Wallis and William Mallard
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