‘We didn’t ask for a meeting,’ Trudeau says as he disputes Trump’s claim

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OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says he made no requests to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump while the two leaders were in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.

The prime minister made the comment a day after Trump told reporters that he had rejected a request for a meeting with Trudeau to discuss the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Referring to Trudeau, Trump said Wednesday: “His tariffs are too high and he doesn’t seem to want to move. And I’ve told him, ‘Forget about it.'”

But on Thursday the prime minister disputed Trump’s statement, insisting Canada made no such request.

“No, we didn’t ask for a meeting this time around,” Trudeau told reporters on his way to a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

In his remarks Wednesday, Trump also said the Americans don’t like Canada’s trade representative “very much” — a comment that appeared to be directed at Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. She has been Trudeau’s point person during the talks.

Trump then reiterated his threat to slap punitive tariffs on Canadian auto imports to the U.S., a tactic experts on both sides of the border have warned would devastate the industry.

“Frankly, we’re thinking about just taxing cars coming in from Canada,” Trump said. “That’s the motherlode, that’s the big one. We’re very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada.”

Trudeau gave credit Thursday to the Canadian negotiating team, and suggested the American side shouldn’t be surprised by the tone of talks.

“The Americans are finding that the negotiations are tough because Canadians are tough negotiators, as we should be,” he said.

“A good and fair deal is still very possible — but we won’t sign a bad deal for Canadians.”

Freeland’s cabinet colleagues came to her defence Thursday as they arrived for their meeting on Parliament Hill.

“I think Minister Freeland is a great foreign minister every single day,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. “She stands up for Canadians’ interests and our workers.”

Canadians should be “very grateful” for Freeland’s work, added Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.

“Minister Freeland is doing an outstanding job at a very difficult task on behalf of all Canadians,” she said.

The Canadian Press