Trump says he is ready to press China’s Xi on case of two detained Canadians

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was prepared to raise the case of two Canadians detained by Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping, an act that could potentially ease a major dispute between Canada and China.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sit behind a scale model of Air Force One as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump made his comments before an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who wants Washington to do more to solve a crisis that erupted after Canadian police arrested an executive of Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co Ltd on a U.S. warrant in Vancouver last December.

Trump is due to meet Xi on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Japan later this month. China has since charged the two Canadian citizens with espionage and blocked imports of canola seed and pork from Canada.

“Anything I can do to help Canada I will be doing,” Trump said when asked whether he would raise the matter with Xi.

Asked again, he replied “I would at Justin’s request, I will absolutely”. The United States and China – the world’s two largest economies – are in the middle of a costly trade dispute.

The comments by Trump – who also called Trudeau “a good friend of mine” – underlined the steady improvement in the relations between the two men since June 2018, when he labeled the Canadian leader weak and dishonest.

Another major trade challenge facing Trump is ratification of a new continental trade pact he signed last year with Mexico and Canada.

Mexico’s Senate on Wednesday approved the new deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and Trudeau says Canada is ready to follow suit. But the pact faces uncertainty in the U.S. Congress. Democratic lawmakers, who control the House of Representatives, are seeking tougher enforcement measures.

Later on Thursday, Trudeau is due to meet U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said she would have an “optimistic” message on the trade deal for him. A day earlier she had outlined several impediments to congressional approval.

“We hope to have bipartisan support. I think Justin, you’re going to be making the rounds of Congress later on … that’s terrific,” Trump said.

Canadian officials had earlier said Trudeau would press U.S. political leaders on the need to quickly ratify the new pact.

Trudeau has not had a formal meeting with Pelosi since she officially became the House speaker in early January.

“We want to relay our feeling that this is a stronger deal than it was before,” the government source said.

Trudeau is also due to meet Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The USMCA, designed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, is crucial to Mexico and Canada. Both send more than 75 percent of their goods exports to the United States.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Roberta Rampton; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool

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