Biden Speaks to Leaders of Mexico and Canada on Trade, Migration

President Joe Biden spoke with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Friday, his first calls with foreign counterparts since his inauguration this week.

In a nod to continental cooperation, Biden’s first conversation was with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The White House, in a statement on Friday night, said Biden underscored to Trudeau “the strategic importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship and reinvigorating our bilateral cooperation on an ambitious and wide-ranging agenda,” including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, defense and trade.

In a Twitter post and in a statement on Friday night, Lopez Obrador, who is known as AMLO, described his conversation with Biden as cordial, and said they discussed migration and Covid-19.

Biden and Trudeau, according to the Canadian government’s account of their phone call, agreed to meet next month, but the White House only said they agreed to speak again in a month. The Canadian government said the two leaders also talked about rising tensions with China, and the detention of two Canadian citizens in China.

Both governments said Trudeau raised his disappointment over Biden’s decision to rescind a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a major Canadian project that would’ve brought more than 800,000 barrels of oil from the western province of Alberta to Nebraska and onward to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Both Trudeau and Lopez Obrador have had clashes with Donald Trump, who sought a rewrite of North American free trade rules, slapped tariffs on each country and threatened to impose more. The countries ultimately reached a deal on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, a relatively modest rewrite of its predecessor, known as Nafta.

Biden has sought to largely reverse Trump’s foreign policy, including by rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change and reversing an exit from the World Health Organization. He has also halted some of Trump’s immigration overhauls and construction of the wall on the Mexican border, and proposed a comprehensive rewrite of immigration policy, though there’s little early appetite in Congress to adopt it.

The fate of the Keystone pipeline, however, has complicated the Ottawa-Washington relationship for Trudeau. While Biden has already begun fulfilling a campaign promise to strengthen environmental regulations in the U.S, the prime minister is now facing pressure domestically to stand up to Canada’s largest trading partner.

Biden has also pledged to maintain and even expand so-called “Buy American” measures that have historically triggered trade disputes with Canada and Mexico. Speaking Friday at the White House about changes to federal contracting rules, Biden said he was “going to make sure that they buy American and are made in America.”

Biden and Trudeau discussed the “Buy American” plan and the U.S. president promised to work with Canada on the issue, according to a Canadian official.

The White House has also hinted that it’s considering seeking changes to the Trans Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation Asia-Pacific trade deal meant as a counterweight to China’s economic clout. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, but it survived and Canada and Mexico remain in it.

Biden believes the TPP “wasn’t perfect and believes we need to make it stronger and better,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, though she added that Biden won’t be focused on that in the “coming months.” If the U.S. seeks changes to the deal in order to join, that could send the countries back to the bargaining table after the raucous USMCA talks with Trump.

Mexico is the top trade partner with the U.S., while Canada is the third-largest, and the largest buyer of U.S. exports.

— With assistance by Dale Quinn

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