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In call with Biden, Trudeau talks trade, border ‘collaboration’ and Olympic soccer

U.S. president basks in basket of Montreal smoked-meat sandwiches won when Tampa Bay won Stanley Cup

Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden each got the chance to sports-gloat a little Monday as the two North American leaders talked for the first time since Canada and the United States appeared to part ways over their shared border.

The call, the first discussion since the pair met during a G7 sidebar in June, gave Trudeau the opportunity to needle his U.S. counterpart about Canada’s semifinal soccer win at the Tokyo Olympics.

A White House version of the call, however, suggests the U.S. president was more interested in the basket of Montreal smoked-meat sandwiches he won after Tampa Bay dispatched the Habs in the Stanley Cup final.

Biden reached out to Trudeau “to thank him for the gift of Montreal smoked meats,” the White House report said from the outset.

The readout said nothing about the Canada-U.S. border, where fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to cross beginning next week.

Canada, on the other hand, made a point of mentioning it.

“The prime minister and president discussed COVID-19 and agreed to continue close collaboration in the management of the Canada-U.S. land border,” said Ottawa’s rendition of the call.

Although U.S.-bound flights from Canada have never been restricted, the White House has pointedly chosen to maintain its land border restrictions, insisting — in the words of press secretary Jen Psaki — that its actions depend on public health advice, “not on the actions of other countries.”

The PMO readout also says Trudeau made the case for Canada as an economic partner, a priority message as Biden makes to look good on his promise that U.S. infrastructure spending would prioritize American firms and suppliers.

With Congress closing in on passing his signature infrastructure plan, which lays out US$1 trillion in spending on upgrading roads, bridges, water systems and high-speed internet access, Biden travelled to Pennsylvania last week to promise a stern approach.

“In recent years, ‘Buy American’ has become a hollow promise,” he told his union-friendly blue-collar audience at a Mack truck factory in Macungie, Penn.

”My administration is going to make ‘Buy American’ a reality.”

Canada has successfully negotiated exemptions in the past, notably in 2009 after then-president Barack Obama imposed his own version of the rules, and more recently under Donald Trump when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was limiting exports of personal protective equipment at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, of course, there’s the mother of all beacons of bilateral co-operation: the newly updated NAFTA, christened by Trump the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which features progressive new enforcement tools for climate change impacts and fairer working conditions.

“The prime minister highlighted the significant alignment between labour and environmental standards in both countries,” the PMO readout said, “and the benefits to each country of open government procurement.”

The White House version: a shared commitment “to strengthening the resilience and competitiveness of the U.S. and Canadian economies.”

In that vein, Trudeau also raised Line 5, the Canadian-owned and operated cross-border pipeline that Michigan wants shut down for fear of an environmental disaster in the Great Lakes.

He “reiterated Canada’s support for a negotiated settlement” in the dispute between the state and Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., and the pair “agreed to continue to monitor developments closely.”

The two sides have a meeting with the court-appointed mediator Aug. 11 and talks are expected to wrap up by the end of the month.

Trudeau and Biden also discussed a collective response to the wildfires currently ravaging the western half of the continent.

“Canada and the U.S. will work together to further strengthen bilateral co-operation on wildfires,” the readout said, “including by developing proposals to increase and share firefighting resources.”

Firefighters from B.C. and Alberta were among those who helped battle the flames last year as West Coast states like California and Oregon battled some of the worst fire disasters in recent history.

The leaders also called for the “immediate release” of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadian citizens detained in China since December 2018 in the fallout from that ensued from the detention of Meng Wanzhou.

The financial head of Chinese tech giant Huawei was detained by Canada at the behest of the U.S., where she is wanted on allegations of trying to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Indeed, the plight of “two Michaels,” as they’re known in Canada, was the only subject where the White House readout chose to elaborate.

Biden “condemned” the “arbitrary detention” of Kovrig and Spavor, describing the pair as “unjustly detained” and promising to “stand strong with Canada to secure their release.”

—James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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