WASHINGTON—President Biden met with his Canadian counterpart on Tuesday, agreeing to closer cooperation on climate change, Covid-19 pandemic response, economic recovery and security in an effort to emphasize the importance of U.S. relations with its northern neighbor.
The virtual meeting between Mr. Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was meant to allow both sides to address issues that have concerned Ottawa and contributed to a strained relationship over the past few years.
Following the meetings, Messrs. Biden and Trudeau announced a new “partnership roadmap” for jointly addressing key issues. The meeting, Mr. Biden’s first one-on-one session as president with a foreign leader, followed his phone call to Mr. Trudeau two days after his inauguration.
Mr. Biden said the two sides have “doubled down” on efforts to tackle climate change in an effort to demonstrate leadership on the world stage to spur other countries to do the same.
“Canada and the United States are going to work in lockstep to display the seriousness of our commitment both at home and abroad,” Mr. Biden said in a statement in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday evening.
The two agreed that each country would launch a ministerial-level event on climate to “align our policies and our goals” to make joint efforts to combat climate change more effective, administration officials said.
The two sides also agreed to strengthen implementation of the Paris climate agreement by pledging to increase the speed at which the two countries realized net-zero emissions by 2050.
Messrs. Biden and Trudeau met by teleconference from their respective capitals, in a departure from the ceremonial greetings and discussions that usually accompany a first meeting between two leaders. At an opening event before the formal meeting, Mr. Biden greeted Mr. Trudeau by video monitor.
Mr. Biden said that the U.S. has “no closer friend than Canada,” while Mr. Trudeau said he was excited to be working with the U.S. again on climate change. “U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” he said.
The meeting also focused on the need to modernize military capabilities, expand efforts to defend the Arctic region and ensure that military forces are prepared to contribute to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, administration officials said.
The border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to nonessential travel since last March. A Biden administration official on Monday sidestepped the question of when it would be open, pledging “collaboration and cooperation” with Canada on the issue.
The two countries also agreed Tuesday to a joint response to Covid-19, including support for the World Health Organization and U.N. development agencies.
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Mr. Biden called on China to release two Canadians—Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor—who have been detained for more than two years, in what Mr. Trudeau has described as retaliation for Canada’s role in the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer at the U.S.’s request.
“Human beings are not bargaining chips,” Mr. Biden said.
Neither of the two leaders in Tuesday’s remarks mentioned the Keystone XL pipeline project, which proposed to carry crude oil from western Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Mr. Biden blocked the project in his first days in office, causing a momentary point of friction between the two countries. While Mr. Trudeau relayed Canada’s disappointment to the Biden administration, he and other Canadian officials have also said they are prepared to work with Washington on other energy initiatives that could benefit both countries.
Relations between the U.S. and Canada under former President Donald Trump were strained as a result of actions by the U.S. and disagreements that became public.
The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, now known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, often pitted members of the Trump and Trudeau administrations against one another.
Canada and the U.S. also clashed over the Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on Canadian-made steel and aluminum on national-security grounds, which were later removed, but not before Canada introduced its own retaliatory tariffs. Amid the disagreements, Mr. Trudeau said in 2018 that it was “insulting” for Washington to consider Canada as a national security threat.
The tension culminated that year in June, following a Group of Seven leaders’ summit in the Canadian province of Quebec. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Trudeau of being “meek” and of making false statements at a press conference. The Canadian leader said he informed Mr. Trump that Canada “would not be pushed around” on trade.
Mr. Trump claimed in a Twitter post, while on board Air Force One flying to Singapore to meet North Korea leader Kim Jung Un, that Mr. Trudeau was “very dishonest and weak.”
In late 2019, Mr. Trump also called Mr. Trudeau “two-faced” after a video and audio emerged showing Mr. Trudeau talking with other Group of Seven leaders about Mr. Trump’s penchant for lengthy press conferences.
The policy kinship between Messrs. Biden and Trudeau dates at least to late 2016, about six weeks before Mr. Trump was sworn in as president, when the then-vice-president praised Mr. Trudeau during a visit to Ottawa, arguing the world would look to the Canadian leader to champion the liberal international order during a tumultuous period.
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