Biden, Trudeau to Talk Ukraine, Defense Spending, Haiti

U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a bilateral meeting at the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, Mexico, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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OTTAWA/WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will make a long-delayed visit to close ally Canada this week to express unity on Ukraine and the environment, but is unlikely to make much progress on tougher trade disputes, sources said on Tuesday.

Biden will be in the capital Ottawa on Thursday and Friday to address Parliament and meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

U.S. presidents traditionally make their first international trip to Canada but delays – in part caused by COVID-19 – mean Biden has already visited almost 20 other nations first. He held his first bilateral meeting as president with Trudeau, albeit virtually.

U.S. and Canadian sources said no significant announcements were likely, with both leaders expected to agree to continue working on areas where thy differ – such as defense spending, the crisis in Haiti and a dairy trade dispute.

Top of mind in Ottawa is Biden’s push to boost manufacturing in the U.S., an economy 10 times the size of Canada’s.

Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed last year includes massive incentives to invest in green industries in the U.S., forcing Canada to try to make up the difference with investments of its own.

Goldy Hyder, chief executive of the Business Council of Canada, said he wanted more of a recognition from the U.S. that the two nations’ economies were highly integrated and that Canadian firms could benefit from the IRA.

“It is not in Amerca’s interest to consolidate the capital to consolidate the innovation, to consolidate the talent, because you weaken your allies,” he told reporters.

Despite the unity over Ukraine, the U.S. is less happy with Canada over its defense spending, which has long failed to meet the 2% target of GDP set by NATO members.

The recent incursion of a Chinese balloon put the focus on

NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian North American defense organization that experts say is in dire need of upgrades.

Last June, Canada promised to invest C$4.9 billion ($3.6 billion) over six years to modernize NORAD. But Canada’s defense spending is around 1.3% of GDP, well below the NATO target of 2%.

David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, told CTV that defense spending would be “a topic of ongoing conversation … because we do need more dollars for defense.”

The U.S. also wants Canada to address the chaos in Haiti, possibly by leading a security mission there, but Canada’s top general this month said he not have the capacity.

“The Americans, I think, are reaching a point where they are getting fed up,” said Colin Robertson, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former Canadian diplomat with several U.S. postings.

Trudeau is likely make a commitment of sorts on Haiti but less than Washington is pressing for, said a source briefed on the summit.

($1 = 1.3727 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons; Editing by Josie Kao
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