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  • Canadian PM Trudeau and U.S. President Trump shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington.

    Canadian PM Trudeau and U.S. President Trump shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington. | Photo: Reuters

Trudeau carefully steered away from questions about the Canadian trade relationship with the United States.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened talks at the White House with U.S. President Donald Trump Monday, seeking to nurture economic ties while avoiding tensions over issues such as immigration.

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Although there was an awkward hand-shaking moment, Trudeau carefully steered away from questions about the Canadian trade relationship with the U.S. in what was his first meeting with the new president. He said he expected each country to always remain each other's most essential partner.

"There have been times where we have differed in our approaches and that’s always been done firmly and respectfully. The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves," Trudeau said.

Trump has pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, linking the economies of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, to make the terms more favorable for the U.S.

At a joint news conference with Trudeau after White House talks, Trump said his biggest concern with NAFTA is the U.S. trade relationship with Mexico, which he has frequently accused of stealing U.S. jobs.

"We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We'll be tweaking it," Trump said.

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"It's a much less severe situation than what's taking place on the southern border. On the southern border, for many, many years the transaction was not fair to the United States," he said.

Trump's vow to renegotiate NAFTA has unnerved Canadian officials, even though he has singled out Mexico in his criticism of the free trade deal. Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the U.S.

Canadian pollster Nik Nanos said Trudeau, who remains popular at home more than a year after winning a surprise liberal majority government, faces the same pressure all Canadian leaders do when they engage with U.S. presidents: keep the economic ties tight but do not appear too chummy or subordinate.

"This meeting is more about avoiding pitfalls than trying to engage on some of the big issues," Nanos said. "It's definitely the policy of laying low."

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