Biden, Trudeau Hold Virtual Bilateral Meeting

February 23, 2021 Updated: February 24, 2021

President Joe Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday in a virtual meeting where the two leaders affirmed bilateral ties and discussed matters surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, among other topics.

“The United States has no closer friend than Canada,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room at the White House. “That’s why you were my first call as president, [and] my first bilateral meeting.”

Biden said the topics they’d discuss would be “COVID-19, economic recovery, climate change, refugees and migration, fighting for our democratic values on a global stage, and strengthening our own democracies at home.”

“The sooner we get this pandemic under control, the better. And I look forward to seeing you in person in the future,” Biden added.

The pandemic caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus had forced the U.S. president to convene virtually with his Canadian counterpart. Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden over the 2020 presidential election, on Nov. 7, 2020, before the results had been certified.

“It’s a great pleasure to sit down with you, President Biden and Vice-President Harris, to obviously talk about Covid, to talk about economic reconstruction and jobs creation for Canadians and Americans in months and years to come, and the fight against climate change which remains an essential element of our future, but also of today,” Trudeau told Biden from the prime minister’s office in Ottawa.

Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen as he speaks virtually with United States President Joe Biden from his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, on Feb. 23, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Trudeau also said. “And I have to say as we were preparing the joint rollout of the communiqué on this, it’s nice when the Americans are not pulling out all the references to climate change and instead adding them in.”

Former President Donald Trump had imposed tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel and in his presidency traveled only once to Canada for a G7 meeting in 2018, and had criticized Trudeau for being “very dishonest and weak” after he left. Trump had also forced the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, talks that consumed Trudeau’s government for years.

Biden was joined in the meeting by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Juan Gonzales, National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere. Trudeau brought Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, and chief of staff Katie Telford.

While cable stations in the United States stuck with breaking news about pro golfer Tiger Woods’s serious car crash, Canada’s CTV and CBC carried the leaders’ remarks live.

The two countries later held an expanded bilateral meeting with a broader set of officials including several of Biden’s cabinet-level advisers and Trudeau’s ministers.

trudeau and biden
President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris (2nd L), national security adviser Jake Sullivan (L), Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Juan Gonzalez (R) hold a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (on screen) in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 23, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement ahead of the virtual meeting that it “will be an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts in areas of mutual interest such as the COVID-19 response, climate change, and the economic ties that bind our countries, as well as the deep people-to-people bonds we share.”

Biden told reporters in a press conference later Tuesday that he and Trudeau had held “a very productive bilateral meeting” and anticipates more such meetings to come. He said that getting the CCP virus pandemic under control in the United States and around the world was the “immediate priority,” and the two countries have committed to work together “by strengthening the World Health Organization, supporting our bold targets under the Global Health Security Agenda, cooperating on the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons [and Materials] of Mass Destruction, and engaging in—other multilateral institutions to promote transparency, build capacity, and strengthening global norms.”

Biden said his team would work together with Canadian leaders “to strengthen the supply chain” to hasten the economic recovery “that benefits everyone, not just those at the top.”

Biden said that the United States and Canada “agreed to double down” on climate change. “Now that the United States is back in the Paris Agreement, we intend to demonstrate our leadership in order to spur other countries to raise their own ambitions,” he said, adding that both countries would be launching a joint initiative to meet a goal of zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.

The leaders during the talk agreed to work on improving race relations, Biden said.

“We both recognize our responsibility, as leading democracies, to defend our shared values around the world and to strengthen our own democracies at home. That means rooting out systemic racism and unconscious bias from our institutions and our laws, as well as our hearts,” he said. “Today, we agreed to re-establish the Cross-Border Crime Forum and work together to modernize our approach to community safety, and to do all—the most—the most we can—do more to take on racism and discrimination in both our systems.”

Separately, Biden said he and Trudeau also agreed to modernize the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a combined organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning to defend of North America.

“And we will launch an expanded U.S-Canadian Arctic dialogue to cover issues related to continental security, economic and social development, and Arctic governance,” Biden said.

Biden also expressed U.S. support for China to release two Canadians being held there. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested two years ago in apparent retaliation from China due to Canada’s arrest and detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, where she now awaits extradition to the United States to face charges for having allegedly committed wire and bank fraud and violated U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” he said. “The United States has no closer and no more important friend than Canada.”

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadians
People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada on March 6, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Psaki had on Monday skipped the question when asked whether Biden was able to make any commitments over the matter.

Trudeau, speaking first in English and then French, began by thanking the U.S. president and said the meeting had focused on “our ambitious new partnership roadmap based on shared values and priorities.”

He said the discussions around improving supply chains would help “the people hardest hit” by the CCP virus pandemic recover.

“I know the president and I are on the same page when it comes to standing up for the middle class and people working hard to join it,” Trudeau said. “And with millions of families relying on the Canada-U.S partnership, this is work we must do together. Just take the energy industry. Canadian energy workers power homes on both sides of the border. It goes to show that we’re all better off for this partnership.”

“We stand united to defeat this pandemic and build a better tomorrow,” he concluded. “And I know our bond will grow even stronger.”

The White House announced Tuesday that Biden plans to issue a “road map” outlining how the two countries will work together on mutual concerns including COVID-19, climate change, defense and security, among other areas.

Psaki said on Monday ahead of the meeting that “no changes” were anticipated when a reporter asked whether Biden would be willing to make exceptions for Canadian contractors and suppliers for the recent “Buy American” executive order he signed. Psaki told reporters Tuesday, “I don’t expect them to make any commitments during the meeting today,” when asked about the possibility of Canada receiving a waiver to the “Buy American” order.

The United States accounts for about 75 percent of Canada’s exports. Biden had said that waivers are used only in “very limited circumstances” such as when there is an overwhelming national security, humanitarian, or emergency need in the country. The executive order Biden signed in late January was designed to increase purchases of products made in the United States, mainly by tightening rules around federal procurement and giving the government a bigger role in supporting U.S. businesses. The federal government currently spends about $600 billion on contracting per year.

In a separate action that was a blow to Canada’s economy, Biden had blocked the construction of Keystone XL pipeline shortly after taking office in January. Biden in a call last month between the two leaders explained his decision over the pipeline, a project which was supported by Trudeau and was 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.

China lashed out at Canada last week for joining the United States and 56 other countries in endorsing a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Tom Ozimek, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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