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World Trudeau defends decision to not seek meeting with Trump in Davos

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 25, 2018, in Davos, Switzerland.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he didn't seek a one-on-one meeting with Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos to allow other world leaders an opportunity to press their issues with the U.S. President.

Mr. Trump – the first U.S. President in nearly 20 years to attend the annual gathering of the wealthy and powerful held in the Swiss Alps – arrived Thursday with a mission to espouse his America First trade policy that has impacted Canada and the world.

Despite U.S. duties on softwood lumber and Bombardier jets and uncertainty over negotiations on the North American free-trade agreement, Mr. Trudeau said it wasn't necessary for him to seek out Mr. Trump and top U.S. cabinet secretaries accompanying him.

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"People know that I have many opportunities to exchange on a regular basis with the President. We talk on the phone. We see each other at a broad range of international and local venues," Mr. Trudeau told a wrap-up news conference in Davos. "When we are in Europe, each of us is focused on seeing the folks we don't see really often enough."

The Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Trudeau's last phone call with President Trump was on Oct. 16 and his last in-person meeting was on Oct. 11 in Washington. However, the PMO pointed out the two leaders have had 17 interactions since Mr. Trump won the election.

Arriving in Davos on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he brought a message of "peace and prosperity." He held separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr. Trump said that talks with Britain would result in a "tremendous increase" in trade and that the two countries were on the "same wavelength in every respect."

Mr. Trudeau – who met leaders of Germany, Italy, Israel, Argentina and India during his three days in Davos – left Thursday night and will miss President Trump's keynote address on Friday to a global economic elite that tends to favour free trade.

"I think the opportunity to convene different perspectives at this conference is really important and, like everyone, I look forward to hearing what the President has to say in his speech," he said.

In contrast to the U.S. President, who has pulled back from international agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Prime Minister has emphasized global commerce and the importance of NAFTA during his three days in Davos. (Canada and 10 other countries agreed earlier this week to a revised version of the TPP that does not include the United States.)

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross criticized Mr. Trudeau on Wednesday for using the platform of the World Economic Forum to "put pressure" on the U.S. in its NAFTA negotiations.

But Mr. Trudeau denied he was causing trouble for the Trump administration.

"I have been very consistent in talking about NAFTA – that it is a good deal for Canada, for the United States," he said. "It has created millions of jobs on both sides of the border and in Mexico over years and it has created economic growth that has been remarkable."

The Prime Minister spent most of time lobbying U.S. corporate chief executives to help him sell the benefits of NAFTA to American workers and urging them to keep investing in Canada.

"Overall, I am pleased with the progress made in this summit," Mr. Trudeau told reporters as he also reiterated the stand he took against corporate greed in his Tuesday speech to corporate heavy hitters, bankers and NGOs.

"Many employers continue to put the pursuit of profits ahead of the well-being of their employees," he told reporters. "We simply cannot afford to let this kind of thinking continue to dictate corporate behaviour."

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However, Mr. Trudeau appeared to be caught off guard when reporters asked what Ottawa is doing to help Sears Canada workers and pensioners, who lost their pension when the company went bankrupt even though Sears's top executives received huge bonuses.

"Obviously there is a significant amount of compassion we have for people who face layoffs, who are put in a difficult situation like this," he said, but admitted there is not much he can do for them.

"That is why Canada has measures like the Canada Pension Plan, like the EI [employment insurance] …for people who are facing unexpected downturns or layoffs like what happened with Sears Canada," he said.

With a file from Reuters.

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