After his first face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he only plans to “tweak” the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada, while his administration has a lot more work to do with Mexico.

Trump’s comments at a joint news conference are likely to provide some relief to Canada’s business leaders, who have been anxious about the president’s repeated promises to either renegotiate NAFTA or scrap it altogether.

In addressing reporters at the White House, both Trump and Trudeau praised the strong relationship between Canada and the United States, and said they will continue to build on current cross-border trade and security agreements.

“We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We’ll be tweaking it, we’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries,” Trump said when asked about NAFTA.  

“It’s a much less severe situation than what’s taken place on the southern border,” he said, adding that trade transactions with Mexico have been “extremely unfair” to the United States over the years.

“We’re going to work with Mexico, we’re going to make it a fair deal for both parties,” Trump said.

The president said his administration is aiming for “easier, faster trade” with America’s northern neighbour.

“We are going to have a great relationship with Canada, maybe as good or better, hopefully, than ever before.”

Trudeau said that the U.S. and Canada are “fundamentally linked” as neighbours in a unique relationship.

"We fought in conflict zones together, negotiated environmental treaties together ... and we've entered into ground-breaking economic partnerships that have created good jobs for both of our peoples,” he said.

In a joint statement issued before the news conference, the two leaders said they will work on their countries’ common interests, including labour mobility, energy, and border security.

The statement also specifically mentions establishing a preclearance system for cargo crossing the border, as well as the expansion of current preclearance procedures for Canadian and American travellers.  

Asked whether he thinks that America’s northern border is secure, Trump replied: “You can never be totally confident.”

He said he’ll continue to discuss security and immigration with Trudeau, and that his administration has “strong, tough” ideas on how to combat terrorism.

Trudeau says he won’t ‘lecture’ U.S.

For his part, Trudeau said Canada will pursue “policies of openness towards immigration and refugees without compromising security.”

He also noted that Canada has accepted close to 40,000 Syrian refugees.

“The last things Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” Trudeau said, adding that his responsibility is to reflect Canadian values and “be a positive example in the world.” 

Before Monday afternoon’s news conference, Trudeau and Trump met privately in the White House, and also attended a roundtable discussion with female executives, pledging their commitments to ensuring workplace equality and advancements for women.

A number of senior members of Trudeau’s government accompanied him to Washington, D.C., including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

In an interview with CTV’s Power Play Monday, Freeland said Trump’s comments on trade and NAFTA were very significant.

“The most important message from today’s meeting was a real reaffirmation from our American partners that they really understand the extent to which we have a balanced, mutually beneficial trade relationship,” she said.

Maryscott Greenwood, an expert in Canada-U.S. relations, said the Trump-Trudeau meeting was an overall success.

“So far so good,” she told Power Play.  “There’s plenty of time for this to go off the rails but as of today, their joint statement was quite good.”

Greenwood said it was “incredibly smart” for Trudeau to also meet with Paul Ryan, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate majority leader.

“Recognizing that Capitol Hill has as much power as the White House is a very savvy political move,” she said.

Reaction from Ottawa

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said she was not surprised by Trump’s comments on NAFTA and the Canada-U.S. trade relationship. She told reporters in Ottawa that, from her own meetings with congressional leaders in Washington, she understood that the U.S. administration regards the relationship with Canada in a very positive light.

Ambrose said the Conservatives will “play a constructive role in helping any kind of renegotiation of NAFTA.

“These are Canadian jobs that Liberals, Conservatives are going to fight for.”

However, Ambrose said any kind of “tweaking” of NAFTA will likely target supply-management agreements and could hurt Canada’s meat, dairy and agricultural sectors.

She also called on Trudeau to focus on his domestic policies, and reconsider his government’s corporate and carbon tax plans.

With files from The Canadian Press  


Trump has been tweeting about the meeting:

Trudeau tweeted earlier: