By David Ljunggren and Roberta Rampton
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.
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 next week to discuss the trade war between the two countries and has suggested Huawei could be part of an eventual deal.
China has 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 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 labelled the Canadian leader weak and dishonest.
Another major trade challenge facing Trump is ratification of a new North American 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.
Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Congress want to pass the deal by the end of August, lest it get mired by politics in the run-up to the presidential and congressional elections in November 2020.
But the pact’s ratification by U.S. lawmakers is uncertain because Democrats, 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.
“I really believe Nancy Pelosi and the House will approve it, I think the Senate will approve it rapidly,” Trump said. Republicans are the majority party in the Senate.
Canadian officials had earlier said Trudeau would press U.S. political leaders on the need to quickly ratify the new pact.
“We’re moving forward in the ratification process along with you,” Trudeau said. 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.
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,” a Canadian government source said.
Trudeau is also due to meet Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The United States last month lifted steel and aluminium tariffs it had imposed on Canada, partly because Ottawa promised to do more to stop transhipments of Chinese steel and aluminium entering the U.S. market via Canada.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Roberta Rampton; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool)