Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday that recent decisions south of the border against Canadian interests are a result of the current "political season," rather than a change in U.S. policy towards Canada.

Harper made the remarks as he headed into a lunchtime meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the APEC summit in Hawaii Sunday.

CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife tweeted that the two leaders held their meeting at a picnic table outside the summit. Images from the scene show the two leaders with jackets off and sleeves rolled up, chatting easily with big smiles on their faces.

However, official statements about the meeting indicated that the two leaders covered serious ground during their talk, including the recent decision by the U.S. State Department to delay the $7 billion Keystone pipeline deal.

After Harper headed into the lunch meeting, Fife tweeted: "PM Harper to tell Obama Canada will sell oil to China if keystone pipeline not approved."

Before the meeting, Harper told reporters that decisions deemed unfavourable to Canadian interests, such as the Keystone delay and so-called "Buy American" budget provisions, are not final.

A budget proposal Obama put forward last week also includes a $5.50 "passenger inspection fee" for Canadian travellers to the United States.

"Remember, not all these things are final decisions," Harper said. "I think Canadians would be wrong to interpret any of these decisions as against Canada.

"This is simply the political season in the United States and decisions are being made for domestic political reasons that often have little or nothing to do with what other countries may think."

In a statement, Obama's press secretary said the president used the meeting with Harper to discuss the recent developments in the Keystone pipeline issue.

"The President underscored his support for the State Department's announcement regarding the need to seek additional information about the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood," the statement said.

Obama also outlined the importance of the two countries working together "to enhance economic competitiveness, create sustainable economic growth and jobs."

The president also extended an invitation to Harper to visit Washington in December.

In an appearance on CTV's Question Period, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the year-long delay in the Keystone pipeline is "a disappointment" that will force Canada to look across the Pacific for customers for oil.

"We've got to go where the trade is," he said from the APEC summit. "We're here at APEC. We have great friends in the Asia-Pacific community. ... This is a tremendous opportunity in the long-term and medium-term for Canada."

Flaherty said the pipeline delay will hurt the United States economically because it will erase "thousands and thousands of high-paying jobs, largely union jobs."

And he added that Canada will explore other avenues.

"The process is already moving forward," he said. "The sooner we can increasingly access markets in Asia the better."

The unexpected opportunity to raise some key issues privately with Obama came about because Mexican President Felipe Calderon cancelled his appearance at the APEC summit after the death of his interior minister in a helicopter crash.

Harper and Obama crossed paths Saturday night at the official opening dinner for the APEC summit as the president welcomed the various world leaders to his home state.

Obama asked whether the Harpers' two children had come for the meetings, but Harper's wife Laureen said "we wanted them to be away from all of this."

In advance of his special meeting with Obama, Harper met Saturday with American business leaders who were in Hawaii for an Asia Pacific business summit. They included executives from FedEx, Time Warner, Walmart Asian, Johnson and Johnson and Cargill.

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who was also at the table, described the gathering as a meeting with family.

"We value the extraordinary relationship we have between the United States and Canada," Tom Donahue said. "We have a list of issues that will consume a lot of discussion."

Donahue cited the economy, the oilsands, and even the Keystone pipeline as matters to be raised.

The Harper-Obama sitdown came only days after the U.S. State department ordered TransCanada to reroute its proposed pipeline and subject it to further environmental assessment, which will delay the $7-billion project at least another year.

The 2,700-kilometre pipeline would bring crude from the new oilsands expansions in northern Alberta to be turned into gasoline and other fuels in Texas, the hub of the American refining industry.

Canada has lobbied hard for an expanded pipeline to be built, saying it would provide jobs and economic benefit to both countries.

But opposition in the U.S. has been vocal, including high profile environmental protests. The rerouting and subsequent assessments allow Obama to delay making a controversial political decision on whether to allow the pipeline to be built.

Harper said he was "disappointed" by the delay, but said the project is far from over.

"We have already indicated of course that we are disappointed," Harper said. "Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that the project will eventually go ahead because it makes eminent sense."

During his news conference, Harper also expressed Canada's willingness to join a new trade sub-group that Canada has so far been excluded from.

Harper said Canada now hopes to join the Trans Pacific Partnership, and can meet all membership criteria, "so it is something that we are interested in moving forward on."

The Harper government had opposed the requirement that Canada show a willingness to consider dropping supply management policies for certain industries.

Harper said Sunday that while "all matters are on the table" during negotiations to join the group, Canada will seek to defend and promote our specific interests in every single sector of the economy."

The visit to Hawaii has been fruitful for the Canadian delegation. The prime minister's Sunday session with Obama will be his fifth bilateral discussion of the weekend, including one with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

With files from The Canadian Press