Biden arrives in Canada to discuss trade, migration challenges


US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden step off Air Force One upon arrival at Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa, Canada on March 23, 2023. — AFP
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden step off Air Force One upon arrival at Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa, Canada on March 23, 2023. — AFP

US President Joe Biden arrived Thursday in Canada where he will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and address parliament, with reports that a deal has been struck on managing undocumented migration across the neighbours’ long border.

Trade, Canada’s anaemic defence spending, and a potential international force to stabilize troubled Haiti are expected to be on the agenda in the events set largely for Friday.

As Biden flew north, there were reports that another hot-button issue in the otherwise smooth relationship had been resolved through a deal to clamp down on undocumented migration by asylum seekers passing through the United States into Canada.

According to The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Canada will be able to stop illegal migrants at the Roxham Road crossing point on the frontier between New York state and Quebec.

The flow of migrants there has been a source of irritation in domestic Canadian politics, much as it is in Washington concerning illegal entries across the US-Mexico border.

The reports said that Canada has agreed in return to take in some 15,000 asylum seekers from Latin America through legal channels, a move that will ease the pressure on the southern US border.

But as Biden and his wife First Lady Jill Biden arrived at Trudeau’s home Thursday evening for dinner, the president declined to answer a reporter’s question on the deal.

He then accompanied the prime minister and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau inside.

Earlier, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not confirm the news but said “we will hear more about it from the president and the prime minister tomorrow.”

Ahead of the visit, the two sides stressed their close integration.

“I think that’s going to be the theme of this visit, that we are there making each other stronger and better,” Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, told CBC.

But only modest, if any, progress is expected on tensions over Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act – a massive program to subsidize and kick start US-based development of electric vehicles and other clean energy products.

“We are looking for more inclusion in exactly those things,” a senior Canadian government official told reporters.

“We want a North America that is globally competitive, so that our two economies which are already so integrated, where so many businesses and jobs and supply chains rely on each other, can compete with the world and can be successful together.”

Money for mutual defence

Another expected item on the agenda is the financing of the neighbours’ mutual defence pacts, both as members of NATO and their joint air defence system for North America, named NORAD.

The US government has been pressuring Canada to increase its defence spending, which in 2022 was just 1.33% of GDP. This is scheduled to rise to 1.59% from 2026 but that’s still well below the NATO alliance requirement of a minimum two percent of GDP spending.

Jean-Pierre praised Canada’s contributions to the Western alliance helping Ukraine to fend off the Russian invasion but said regarding the budget, “I’m sure that conversation will come up.”

Earlier Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Biden and Trudeau would discuss pleas from Haiti’s leaders for an international force to bring order to the impoverished Caribbean nation, where the authorities are unable to subdue armed gangs.

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