Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau mark better US-Canada ties with climate, trade accords

US President Barack Obama (right) and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.
US President Barack Obama (right) and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday (March 10) ended a frosty period in bilateral ties by agreeing to tackle climate change and strive to settle a long-lasting trade dispute over softwood lumber.

The neighboring countries are traditionally close but relations in recent years soured under former prime minister Stephen Harper, who hectored the White House in a failed bid to push through US approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Obama and Trudeau, whose Liberals came to power last November promising much better cooperation with Washington, pledged joint steps to fight global warming, including cutting methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

 

"I am grateful that I have him as a partner ... When it comes to the central challenges that we face, our two nations are more closely aligned than ever," Obama told a news conference at the end of talks with Trudeau in the White House.

 

The countries committed to cutting emissions of methane by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025, to take steps to fight climate change in the Arctic, and to speed development of green technologies.

They also told officials to look for solutions to a lengthy dispute over exports of Canadian softwood lumber, as well as promising to make it easier for goods and people to cross the long shared border.

"The President and I agree on many things including, of paramount importance, the direction we want to take our countries in to ensure a clean and prosperous future," said Trudeau, citing "tremendous progress" on many issues.

In another sign that bilateral ties have entered a friendlier era, Trudeau invited Obama to address the Canadian Parliament this year.

Americans have been captivated by the photogenic Trudeau, 44, whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister from 1968 through 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984.

His official visit will be capped by a state dinner on Thursday, making him the first Canadian leader to be granted that honour since 1997.

That occasion could be overshadowed by the raucous race to succeed Obama in the Nov 8 presidential election. Candidates for the Republican nomination will hold a debate on Thursday night.

Trudeau declined to say what he would do in case the next president was Donald Trump, who has mused about tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“The friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies,” he said. “I have tremendous confidence in the American people, and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.”

The two sides also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Obama hopes to convince a reluctant US Congress to ratify before he leaves office in January. Canada is also wrestling with the merits of the TPP.