The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has declined an invitation to visit the White House this week to celebrate a new North American free trade deal, amid worsening coronavirus figures in the US and lingering tensions with Donald Trump.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is due to meet Trump in Washington on Wednesday, and had urged Trudeau to attend the meeting.
But in a statement on Monday, Trudeau’s office said: “We wish the United States and Mexico well at Wednesday’s meeting. While there were recent discussions about the possible participation of Canada, the prime minister will be in Ottawa this week for scheduled cabinet meetings and the long-planned sitting of parliament.”
Last week, however, the prime minister had cited threats of new aluminum and steel tariffs as a potential factor in his decision.
“We’re obviously concerned about the proposed issue of tariffs on aluminum and steel that the Americans have floated recently,” Trudeau told reporters.
American officials cited national security concerns when they imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico during negotiations for the North American trade pact last year, which came into effect on 1 July. The tariffs – long a source of frustration for Canadian negotiators – were seen as a repudiation of the historically close relationship between the two countries.
Had he accepted the invitation, the visit would have marked the first meeting between the two leaders since fresh details of Trump’s dislike of Trudeau emerged in a new book by the former US national security adviser, John Bolton.
In one instance, after Trudeau expressed frustration over US tariffs, Trump allegedly told aides to “attack” the prime minister.
“Trump’s direction [to senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow] was clear: just go after Trudeau. Don’t knock the others. Trudeau’s a ‘behind-your-back guy,’” Bolton writes in The Room Where It Happened.
Soon after, the White House aide Peter Navarro went on TV and said there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau because of the way he treated Trump.
In addition to a politically fractious relationship with the president, Trudeau had cited concerns over the “health situation and the coronavirus reality that is still hitting all three of our countries” as another factor in his decision.
With the outbreak worsening in the US, more than 80% of Canadians say the shared border, which temporarily closed in March, should remain off limits for travellers, according to a new poll from Nanos Research/The Globe and Mail.
The US recorded more than 52,000 new cases of the virus on Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as officials try to blunt large viral outbreaks in the southern and western regions of the country. There are an estimated 2.9m recorded cases, with more than 1.5m active cases.
Canada, meanwhile, reported 226 new coronavirus cases and nearly 28,000 active cases on Sunday – with health officials cautiously expressing optimism that the country was past its peak.