US and Canada set to improve bilateral relations, pull weight

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (on screen) and US President Joe Biden and speak to the media after holding a virtual bilateral meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday. AFP

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on February 23 called the country’s friendship with its southern neighbour “extraordinary”, while US President Joe Biden declared the two nations best friends in a virtual meeting turning the page on the turbulent Donald Trump era.

“The United States has no closer friend than Canada,” Biden said, setting the tone for the get-together conducted by video link between Trudeau’s office in Ottawa and the White House.

Although Covid-19 restrictions kept the two leaders apart physically, they went out of their way to demonstrate that the giant neighboring countries are back to their traditional closeness after the tension of Trump’s “America First” policies.

“We have a robust agenda today and we’re all best served when the United States and Canada work together and lead together,” Biden said in public remarks before heading into closed-door talks.

Repaying the compliment, Trudeau said they would work “together to get through Covid but also to make sure we’re pulling our weight around the world and making the world a better and safer place for everyone”.

Trudeau thanked Biden – who has put the US back into the Paris climate accord on reducing global carbon emissions – for his policies on global warming.

“US leadership has been sorely missed over the past, uh, past years,” he said in a not so hidden dig at Trump.

The White House is touting that February 23’s extensive talks will provide a “roadmap” for better relations.

Trump, who recategorised Canada and other US allies as competitors, had a sometimes tense personal relationship with Trudeau.

By contrast, Trudeau was the first foreign leader to phone Biden after he won the November election and Trudeau was the first foreign leader the Democrat called after getting into the Oval Office.

The White House emphasised how Canada-US ties play an important role in multilateral settings, from the G7 to NATO, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and the WTO.

But while Canada is looking forward to more predictable behaviour from its largest trading partner, Biden has already introduced his own new source of friction by cancelling the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline project, citing environmental concerns.

Trudeau and Biden said they addressed several mutual priorities, including climate change and revving up the North American economy.

Trudeau’s office said: “By being on the same line on several subjects, like climate change or economic revival, we can do more together.”

One area Trudeau and Biden did not comment on in the public portion of their remarks was the US decision to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa and previously by Trump.

Biden rescinded the permit by executive order on his first day in office.