WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met virtually Tuesday to discuss a host of issues, including climate change, China, vaccines and the economy.
Canada has often been a U.S. president’s first foreign stop and was Biden’s first bilateral meeting with a foreign leader since taking office last month. Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden on his presidential win.
Typically a formal meeting, held with pomp and fanfare, the pandemic has turned the sit-down between the two leaders and some of their top deputies into a virtual affair, foregoing the usual protocol.
The two leaders — Biden in the Oval Office in Washington and Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa — addressed the media after their meeting.
Then Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will hold a 45-minute session with Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman.
That meeting will be followed by an extended session that will include Vice President Kamala Harris as well as several of Biden’s Cabinet-level advisers and Trudeau’s ministers.
“The most important thing here is a reinvigorated road map for cooperation between the United States and Canada, meaning that we’re going to talk regularly to one of our closest allies to make sure that there’s no kind of misunderstandings,” a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters.
The agenda includes the two countries’ COVID-19 responses including Canada’s access to U.S.-produced vaccines produced in the United States. Biden is eager to address security threats from climate change as well as China, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
“We expect the president, during the meeting, to highlight the strong and deep partnership between the United States and Canada as neighbors, friends and NATO allies,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.
While it’s unclear whether the meeting would result in any new deal on any particular concerns, Trudeau is seeking support from the Biden administration on several issues ranging from help with Canada’s vaccine supply to a stand-off with China over the detention of a Huawei executive.
It was unclear whether Trudeau raised the idea of allowing Canada access to purchase vaccines from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Michigan. Canada currently 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, for now, remains focused on first inoculating the U.S. population, according to the senior administration official.
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 $600 billion earmarked for procurement to boost U.S. 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 are used only in “very limited circumstances,” such as when there is overwhelming national security, humanitarian or emergency need in the U.S.
The issue is crucial to Canada since the U.S. accounts for about 75% of its exports. During former President Donald Trump’s administration, there were imposed tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. Trudeau also wants Canada and the U.S. to collaborate more closely on manufacturing electric vehicles and supplying critical minerals needed to make batteries for cars and other clean technologies, Trudeau told Reuters earlier this month.
Asked if Canada may get a waiver from Biden’s “Buy American” order, Psaki said Monday that “no changes are anticipated.”
Trudeau was expected to again raise concerns to Biden about two Canadians imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive, according to a senior Canadian official familiar with the prime minister’s preparation for the call.
Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in China following the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada after the U.S. requested her extradition to face charges that the Chinese telecom company executive committed wire and bank fraud and violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. She denies the allegations and remains under house arrest.
Biden was anticipating that Trudeau would raise the issue and plans to make clear that the White House will be as “supportive as possible to help secure the release” of the two Canadian men who were unjustly detained but added it would not meddle in independent Department of Justice matters, according to the senior Biden administration official, reported Reuters.
China lashed out at Canada last week for joining the U.S. and 56 other countries in endorsing a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.
Biden also used the call last month to explain his decision to halt building of the Keystone XL pipeline. The long-disputed project was supported by Trudeau and projected to carry some 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Despite Trudeau’s disappointment with Biden’s decision to cancel the project, Canadian government officials said the call went well between the two leaders, who have known each other for years.
An administration official said Biden would raise the topic of the countries’ investment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Trump often disparaged allies for their shortfall in funding the mutual defense organization.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article. All reporting by Aamer Madhani/AP and Rob Gillies/AP. Reporting for Reuters: Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Scherer, Valerie Volcovici.