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Trudeau meets Biden in D.C. as leaders gather for trade summit

The summit, which lasted only a few hours, wasn’t even the president’s top priority
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in the U.S. capital today to represent Canada at the inaugural Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity summit. Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden take part in a meeting on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Friday, March 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Friday with U.S. President Joe Biden on the margins of a mini-summit at the White House aimed at bolstering hemispheric trade and economic stability throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The two leaders discussed a wide range of issues, Trudeau said, including what he described as the urgent need for a “humanitarian pause” in the war raging between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We all want it to stop,” he told a news conference at the Canadian Embassy.

“Countries like Canada and the United States and others are continuing to encourage everything that can be done to protect human life, including with humanitarian pauses.”

But Trudeau offered few other details of the meeting, beyond noting that Biden himself did not raise the Liberal government’s plan for a digital services tax on foreign tech companies — a sore spot with some U.S. lawmakers.

And he defended that plan, which U.S. critics — including David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada — want halted pending a global taxation framework from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“We’re a government that believes that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes,” Trudeau said.

“We are hopeful that there will be a common framework eventually, sometime in the future. But we’ve been very, very clear about our responsibility to Canadians, particularly for services delivered to Canadians on Canadian soil.”

Cohen warned earlier this week that Canada could be in for a “big fight” with the U.S. over the tax, which is slated to take effect in January. Critics see the country-by-country approach as overly aimed at the U.S. tech sector.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday she’s “cautiously optimistic” that a solution can be found before the end of the year.

Friday’s brief and rapidly assembled White House meeting, hosted by the president, marked the first official gathering of all 12 countries taking part in a nascent trade partnership aimed at fortifying economic growth and supply chains.

READ MORE: Trudeau headed to White House for Western Hemisphere trade summit

The White House is hoping that in turn, more stability in South America and the Caribbean will help ease the relentless pressure it faces from the crush of irregular migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to the U.S. and Canada, the framework includes Mexico, Chile, Barbados, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic.

But the summit, which lasted only a few hours, wasn’t even the president’s top priority Friday: in the afternoon, Marine One hoisted Biden skyward for a trip to Lewiston, Maine, the site of the country’s latest deadly mass shooting.

“We envision a brighter future for all the people of the Americas in which vibrant economies build more equitable societies and democratic governments, through effective institutions, deliver for all,” the group said in a joint statement.

“To this end, we recognize the need to accelerate inclusive and sustainable trade and investment in the region, address the climate crisis, and expand social and economic opportunities that leave no one behind.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press