Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump arrive to take part in a plenary session at the NATO Summit in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Trudeau announced Monday that he won't attend a meeting with Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Washington. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau cancels visit with U.S. and Mexican leaders

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not travel to Washington to attend a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marking the launch of the new North American trade deal, his office said on Monday.

The Canada-United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), also known as the UMSCA, came into force on July 1, replacing the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The meeting between Trump and Lopez Obrador is still expected to go ahead in Washington on Wednesday.

“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,” Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), said in a statement.

Trudeau, however, spoke with the Mexican president by phone on Monday, according to the PMO.

“The two leaders discussed the significant efforts made by each country to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and looked forward to their next opportunity to meet in person,” said a readout of the phone call released by the PMO.

Trudeau and Lopez Obrador discussed investment in renewable energy infrastructure “to help fight climate change and support economic growth,” the readout said.

Trudeau and Lopez Obrador also spoke by phone on June 16. But Trudeau’s last telephone call with Trump dates back to March 18, according to the prime minister’s website.

A nagging trade dispute

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to workers and reporters as Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, looks on at a news conference during a visit of the Rio Tinto AP60 aluminum plant Monday, March 12, 2018 in Saguenay Que. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau was scheduled to attend a two-day virtual cabinet retreat on Monday and Tuesday, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau is expected to deliver what he has called a “fiscal snapshot” on Wednesday.

Asked last week whether he would attend the Washington meeting, Trudeau said that COVID-19 posed an obvious concern, given that Canadian public health rules would mean he would have to quarantine for two weeks upon his return.

But Trudeau also mentioned a nagging trade issue with the United States.

“We’re obviously concerned about the proposed issue of tariffs on aluminum and steel that the Americans have floated recently,” he said, referring to Trump’s statement last month that he might look at reintroducing tariffs on Canadian aluminum.

The United States imposed tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum imports in 2018 but removed them last year.

The American Primary Aluminum Association (APAA), which represents two of the last three remaining primary producers in the United States, says the surge of Canadian aluminum imports to the United States is threatening the viability of the domestic primary aluminum industry.

APAA CEO Mark Duffy has called on the Trump administration to reimpose the so-called Section 232 tariffs on Canadian aluminum “to save American jobs.”

The U.S. Aluminum Association, which represents more than 120 companies across the entire industry, disagrees with that position.

Aluminum Association president and CEO Tom Dobbins has argued that the U.S. trade action should focus on Chinese overcapacity rather than Canadian exports.

Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the free flow of goods and services, including aluminum, is important for jobs and economic growth in both countries.

“We will always defend Canada’s aluminum sector and its workers,” Cuplinskas told Radio Canada International on June 23.

With files from CBC News

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