Skip to main content

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before a meeting at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 17.OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that Canada is planning a three-phased approach to loosening COVID-19 testing requirements at the Canadian border and stressed that U.S. prosperity will flow from continental trade and trusted neighbours in an increasingly competitive world.

Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat and co-chair of the House northern border caucus, said Mr. Trudeau told a group of Congressional legislators that Ottawa will first loosen the rules for Canadian citizens, then for Americans and finally for people from all other countries.

Initially, the Canadian government will remove the current predeparture PCR testing requirements for fully vaccinated Canadians returning home from trips lasting less than 72 hours, according to two government officials. Nor will they be required to take rapid antigen tests for these short trips abroad. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter.

”We are looking at making steps to loosen up requirements while at the same time keeping Canadians safe. We will have an announcement to make in the coming days,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters after his visit to Capitol Hill.

The Canadian government is expected to announce the first stage on Friday that will come into effect Nov. 30.

U.S. senators bordering Canada, including Democratic Majority Leader Charles Schumer, had been pressing Ottawa to rescind the costly polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 test to help local U.S. communities along the border. Canadian business leaders were also calling for an end to the expensive PCR tests.

“First phase: Canadians. U.S. next. And then all others,” Mr. Higgins said at the U.S. Capitol shortly after the meeting ended. “He was firm about the three-phased approach, but not specific to the time that would commence.”

The meeting between Mr. Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and several other U.S. lawmakers lasted a little more than an hour in a room across from the House chamber before Mr. Trudeau headed to a similar meeting across the Capitol with leaders in the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Higgins complained, however, that Mr. Trudeau is moving far too slowly in reopening the border.

“Both borders should have been open six months ago, they should have been open at the same time and they should have allowed fully vaccinated people to traverse back and forth without testing,” he said. “Being fully vaccinated needs to count for something. … To impose the testing requirement is unhelpful.”

Mr. Higgins said the meeting also included discussions on trade and auto manufacturing, including President Joe Biden’s proposed US$12,500 tax credit for people who buy electric vehicles assembled at plants in the United States.

Mr. Higgins said he was hopeful that Canada’s objections – that the credit’s “Buy American” provisions would ensure EVs are made exclusively in the U.S. and not in Canada or Mexico – could be addressed.

Ms. Freeland said the Canadians bluntly told Congressional leaders that the tax incentive for EVs is a “clear violation” of the recently renegotiated North American free-trade agreement, now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

“We met with both Republicans and Democrats who have skin in the game when it comes to the new NAFTA,” she told reporters. “We sort of said, guys ... do you really want to violate that in such a significant way so soon after its passage? ... I think they heard us.”

The Prime Minister is holding bilateral meetings Thursday with Mr. Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador before the three leaders get together for what is known as the Three Amigos summit. The last one was held in 2016 before Donald Trump became president and rejected the regular trilateral summits.

Rising U.S. protectionism has been of mounting concern to Canada and Mexico, particularly Buy American provisions for infrastructure projects and EV tax credits – measures popular among Democrats and U.S unions but opposed by U.S., Canadian and Mexican business leaders.

In remarks delivered at the Wilson Centre in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau sought to play up the economic benefits of an integrated North American economy and the consequences of retreating to protectionism.

“It is in Canada’s interest to maintain the smooth flow of goods and services across the border. It’s also in the United States’ interests. The jobs that are created and maintained because of integrated supply chains across our borders, in everything from autos to high-level manufacturing and services to natural resources and energy,” he said. “The U.S. could do worse than rely on its closest friend, its oldest friend, his most reliable friend, for ensuring that we are able to be strong and resilient in the North American context.”

Without mentioning China, which has gained control of large critical mineral supplies, Mr. Trudeau said he plans to tell the President that Canada is a far more trusted supplier of critical minerals that are necessary for electric cars, smartphones, fighter jets and high-tech sectors.

The Canadian government has been holding up critical minerals – such as cobalt, lithium, magnesium and nickel – as a bargaining tool to press the Biden administration to exempt Canada from Buy American.

“The U.S. doesn’t have nearly as much and we are happy to provide in a reliable trade,” he said. “Many of the critical minerals necessary for the production of batteries for electric vehicles, we are developing those battery supply chains in Canada because we know that’s going to be a key path forward.”

Mr. Trudeau said the EV tax credits could have a “real negative impact” on the free flow of automobiles and auto parts that are guaranteed in USMCA.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that he and the other premiers spoke to Mr. Trudeau during a call on Tuesday evening, where they discussed the U.S. President’s proposed Buy American rules. He said the premiers want Canada excluded from the provision.

“All the premiers feel the same way,” Mr. Ford said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get excluded from this Buy America. It’s going to hurt both sides of the border if he continues to do this.”

Asked specifically about Mr. Biden’s plans for U.S.-made EVs, Mr. Ford said he’s “very concerned.”

“Why would you go after your No. 1 ally, your No. 1 economic partner, for what? It’s going to hurt them just as much as it hurt us. So let’s work together, and we’re much stronger united than divided,” Mr. Ford said.

With a report from Laura Stone

For subscribers only: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct