Justin Trudeau speaks to FT editor about working with Joe Biden
The FT’s editor Roula Khalaf talks with the Canadian prime minister about his recent congratulatory call to the US president-elect. He also shares his views on Brexit and world trade
Produced and edited by Petros Gioumpasis
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Perhaps more than any other leader you've spent the last four years walking a tightrope between trying to represent your values and trying not to provoke President Trump. So let me start by asking you, because this is very hot news still, do you feel relief?
My job is to work with whoever gets elected in the United States. Over the past four years we were able to renew our most important trade agreement in saving the North American Free Trade Agreement and making sure it was updated and modernised, even with an American president who was, is still a little bit unpredictable and protectionistic.
I look forward to being able to talk with the new president much more about climate change, much more about some of our priorities, but my job is to work with whomever Americans elect. And we've been able to do it for the past four years. We will continue to do it for the coming years.
I think you were the first foreign leader who spoke to president-elect Biden. What did you talk about? And to what extent do you think that the change of president is going to help revive or reinforce what we call the western liberal order?
Well, first of all, we talked mostly about Covid. The challenge that our countries and our world is facing right now that is the most important thing to deal with. I mean, we all and both Joe and I have talked many times about building back better as being a big goal for all of us, but we don't get to do that unless we make it through this pandemic. And that's really been in my focus, and I think it's... he's demonstrated that that's very much his focus as he's president-elect right now, as of, after January 20 that's what he's going to be acting on.
There's lots of other things for us to do as well on multilateralism, on fighting climate change, on creating good jobs in a transforming economy. These are things that Canada and the US have always had a good relationship on and we're going to keep working together on.
Let me ask you about China, because Canada's been caught in the tensions between the US and China. There are still two Canadian citizens who are detained in China following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou. Do you subscribe to the idea that the relationship between China and the west can only get worse? That we are entering into a new cold war?
I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding in terms of world views from the west versus China. And that's one of the challenging things that we have to work through. I mean, China saw us fulfil an extradition treaty with our closest ally, the United States, and decided that by detaining arbitrarily two Canadian citizens they could put pressure on us and have us, you know, release Meng Wanzhou. The fact is it has very little to do with our relationship with the United States that we're living up to our extradition treaty and everything to do with our values and the fact that we don't believe in coercive diplomacy, and that we actually deeply believe that if you start giving into that kind of pressure you'll leave yourself worse off for the long term.
So they... China continues to think that they can just put enough pressure on us and we will give in, where that's exactly the opposite of our position. It's extremely unfortunate that they've detained these two Michaels for 700 days now, and we're doing everything we can to try and resolve it, but we will not bend on our principles, on the rule of law, on the systems of justice that protect us all as countries around the world from this might is right that we're seeing, unfortunately, in certain corners of the world.
Now we get to the big question. We have... you may not have heard a lot about Brexit in the last few months because of the pandemic. But I am in London and there will be an exit from the EU at the end of the year. You have said before that it should be fairly straightforward to roll over the Canada-EU trade deal to a UK-Canada agreement. What are the prospects for sealing this before the end of the year?
Well, I certainly think they are very good. I spoke with Prime Minister Johnson a few days ago and told him that we are on the edge of having an agreement. There's still a couple of little things to work out.
But what is that? Days? Weeks?
We should... I think we're ready to have it done before January 1st. One of the challenges is bandwidth.
I mean, Canada is a country that has a free trade deal with every other... we're the only G7 nation with a free trade deal with every other G7 nation. We signed Nafta, we signed the CTPPP, we did the CETA deal with Europe over the past five years. We know how to negotiate trade deals. The UK hasn't had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades. So there is an issue of not really having the bandwidth within government to move forward on this.
Have you offered to lend them some of your trade negotiators?
Yes. Yes, we have.
I sympathise with Canada.
We've been helpful. We have been helpful in that and we've said that, look, we should be able to move forward on that.
I know that rolling over and demonstrating free trade deals for the UK government is extremely important. Canada is a really easy one. We're there for it. We'd like to do it. So I'm very hopeful that it's going to get done.
But that really is up to the UK government because we're there for it. I just hope they can come around.