By James McCarten, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he directly raised concerns about a proposed electric-vehicle tax credit, Buy American rhetoric and the cross-border Line 5 pipeline with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Trudeau made the remarks on Thursday night following a trilateral summit with the American leader and his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador — the first so-called Three Amigos summit since 2016.
“This summit has been extremely effective,” the prime minister told a news conference. “Our partnerships are strong and unwavering.”
Biden offered no hints earlier Thursday he was willing to budge on the controversial $12,500 tax credit for American-made electric vehicles, a proposed measure the Canadian industry has described as a potential body blow.
Trudeau said he stressed Canada’s concerns about the tax credit throughout the past two days of meetings with the Biden administration in Washington, D.C., highlighting the impact it would have on Canadian jobs and its auto industry.
“We’re going to continue to do the work necessary to not just highlight our position but find a solution,” he said.
Asked whether he was disappointed that no solution was reached, Trudeau said in any relationship as deep as that of Canada and the U.S., there are going to be challenges and he will continue to engage with the administration in constructive ways.
He said the Americans are “very aware” of Canada’s concerns and the threats the proposed tax credit poses to decades of integrated auto making that was enshrined in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the free-trade agreement that replaced NAFTA.
The Line 5 oil pipeline is another irritant between the two nations as the Biden administration has shown little enthusiasm for the project that has been the target of protests and legal actions in the U.S. The president’s protectionist Buy American language has also been a concern.
Trudeau was also asked during the news conference whether he was planning a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, as the U.S. has done. He said Canada has been engaging with global partners and as the Games approach, more information about Canada’s posture and that of the world will be released.
Earlier Thursday, Biden offered the usual bilateral pleasantries as he welcomed Trudeau to the Oval Office, but the U.S. president appeared in no mood for compromises on the electric-vehicle tax credit.
“We’re going to talk about that to some extent,” Biden said. “We haven’t even passed it yet in the House … there’s a lot of complicating factors.”
It’s too early to assume — and highly unlikely — that the proposal, which is part of the $1.75-trillion climate change and social spending package currently awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives, will emerge unscathed.
The trilateral summit between Trudeau, Biden and López Obrador was held in the ornate East Room of the White House.
Seated at a large oval table with Biden on one side and Trudeau and López Obrador safely physically distanced on the other, the three leaders spoke of prioritizing the physical and economic health of their shared continent and respective residents.
“Our North American vision for the future draws on our shared strengths, as well as three vibrant democracies with dynamic populations and economies, wishing to work together,” Biden said.
“We can meet today and we can meet all the challenges, if we just take the time to speak to one another, by working together.”
Trudeau thanked Biden for playing host and described himself as being among friends with a shared priority of “ending” COVID-19 and ensuring strong supply chains between all three countries.
“We are three countries with extremely strong ties between our people, with our values and visions for the future strongly united,” he said.
He described the USMCA as a “world-class” deal that protects workers’ rights and allows all three countries to work together on the climate crisis.
None of the three leaders mentioned the tax credit, which both Canada and Mexico believe is too heavily geared toward U.S.-made vehicles and is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the USMCA.
However, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration doesn’t believe it violates the trilateral free trade agreement.
“We don’t view it that way, I think it’s safe to say,” said Psaki. “I would say that, in our view … the electric vehicle tax credit is an opportunity to help consumers in this country.”
Biden, who has made it clear he shares some of his predecessor’s protectionist instincts, also designed the credit to favour vehicles made with U.S. union labour.
A number of issues the three leaders were to discuss had been agreed upon in advance.
For instance, Canada and Mexico have already agreed to redistribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses they received from the United States to other Western Hemisphere countries.
A North American working group on violence against Indigenous women and girls — an initiative Trudeau announced with former U.S. president Barack Obama in Ottawa in 2016 — is being revived by Biden.
The three leaders also looked at strengthening trilateral co-operation on the Western Hemisphere’s unprecedented migration crisis that has seen millions of asylum seekers from Central America crashing Mexico’s borders while Venezuela’s economic and political crisis is expected to produce six million refugees by the end of the year.
Trudeau — with several cabinet ministers in tow, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Trade Minister Mary Ng and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino — met one-on-one Thursday morning with López Obrador at D.C.’s Mexican Cultural Institute.
López Obrador, who was meeting Trudeau in person for the first time, described the two countries as “sister nations” in advance of their trilateral meeting with Biden.
“We are both countries that belong in North America,” the Mexican president said. “We are countries that collaborate and co-operate.”
Trudeau acknowledged that the two countries have “lots of great things to talk about, lots of things that we agree and align on.”
The overarching theme of the summit is joining forces to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic and make the North American continent more resilient and self-sustaining against global supply chain bottlenecks.
As widely expected, the three leaders were also focused on the supply chain snarls that are hampering the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Canada is expected to be added to the U.S.-Mexico supply chain working group to make it a North America-wide effort aimed at minimizing future disruptions for the continent. The new working group will look at defining essential industries, including critical minerals.
Trudeau used his first day in Washington on Wednesday to talk up Canada’s competitive advantage on critical minerals, which are used in batteries for computers, cellphones, electric vehicles and other essential items.