OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will hold his first talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday amid tensions over whether the administration plans protectionist measures that could cripple Canada’s economy.
The two leaders also have differing views about immigration from predominantly Muslim nations and Trump is likely to press his Canadian counterpart to ramp up defense spending and thereby help shore up NATO.
Although the progressive 45-year-old Trudeau has little in common with the 70-year-old Republican businessman president, he needs to make a good impression on Trump, who wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States and is keen to avoid becoming the target of extra tariffs or other damaging measures. Trump says NAFTA, which also includes Mexico, has been disastrous for American workers.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland sounded a note of caution on Wednesday, saying Canada opposed the idea of the United States imposing new border tariffs and would respond appropriately to any such move.
Although neither administration released details of Monday’s meeting at the White House, two people familiar with the talks said it would be wide-ranging.
“They will discuss everything - trade, the border, security and defense,” said one person, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Defense, particularly NATO, is a likely sticking point. Although Alliance nations have committed to spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on their militaries, Canada contributes barely half that.
Trudeau’s office, asked about the agenda, said more details would become known later.
“President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau look forward to a constructive conversation on strengthening the relationship between our two nations,” the White House said in a statement.
Several senior Canadian government ministers visited Washington this week to meet their U.S. counterparts as part of a charm offensive designed to persuade the Trump team not to single out Canada during the NAFTA talks.
The Trump administration is not necessarily all bad news for the Canadian economy.
Last month, the president cleared the way for TransCanada Corp’s (TRP.TO) proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries.
If built, the project could help a Canadian energy sector struggling with low crude prices.
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; editing by David Alexander, Bernard Orr