Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with American Vice-President Mike Pence at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Special Session - Collaborating to Create Tomorrow’s Global Economy, in Providence, R.I., Friday, July 14, 2017. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau to meet U.S. vice-president amid NAFTA talks, Syria strikes

US President Donald Trump cancelled summit last minute to deal with chemical-weapons attack in Syria

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have a chance to make the case for a successful end to North American free trade talks — and learn more about the U.S. strikes against Syria — when he meets U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence today.

The meeting will occur on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which takes place every four years and which U.S. President Donald Trump was expected to attend until he cancelled at the last minute.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Lima, Peru, on Friday that the Canadian delegation is looking forward to its meeting with Pence.

Trump cancelled his attendance at the last minute to deal with the recent chemical-weapons attack in Syria, which culminated in the launch of U.S., British and French strikes against Syrian targets on Friday night.

Shortly after the strikes, the prime minister issued a statement condemning the use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, where more than 40 people were killed and 500 injured — many of them children — on April 7.

“Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people,” Trudeau said.

Freeland, who spoke before the strikes were announced, said she understood why Trump could not attend the summit in Peru and that the government has a good relationship with Pence.

“We’ve had some very good meetings with Vice-President Pence,” Freeland said.

“He is a former governor, so he has a real fingertip understanding of what trade between Canada and the U.S. means. And I think it will be a good opportunity for the prime minister to continue that conversation.”

Pence served as governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017.

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The meeting also gives Trudeau an opportunity to clarify the U.S. position after American negotiators indicated this week that they would soften their position on autos, before Trump said he was willing to “renegotiate forever.”

Trudeau’s meeting with Pence comes after the prime minister and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto huddled with their senior lieutenants on the NAFTA negotiations on Friday.

Negotiators from all three countries are currently hard at work in Washington, where an agreement on autos is reportedly imminent and the focus is now turning to agriculture.

The prime minister is also scheduled today to meet with the president of Argentina and leaders from the Pacific Alliance trade bloc, which is comprised of Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia.

Canada is also expected to contribute new funds to help stamp out corruption in the Americas as part of the summit.

Peru is the first stop in a major foreign tour for Trudeau, who also plans to visit France and the United Kingdom, the latter to participate in a Commonwealth meeting.

The prime minister was scheduled to fly directly from Peru to France, where he is scheduled to address the French National Assembly.

But he will make a quick stop in Ottawa on Sunday to meet with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and B.C. Premier John Horgan, who are locked in a bitter dispute over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

Trudeau will continue on to Paris after the stop in Ottawa.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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