WASHINGTON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made clear to President Joe Biden on Saturday that he’s eager to forge a new U.S.-Britain trade deal.
Johnson’s push for a deal came during a wide-ranging call between the two leaders that touched on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the Biden administration’s announcement this week that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, according to a statement from Downing Street.
A new trade agreement between the allies is a higher priority for Johnson than it is for Biden. Britain regained control over its national trade policy at the start of the month following the end of a post-Brexit transition period.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration had no timeline for forging a new trade deal because Biden’s attention was largely focused on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control and pressing Congress to pass the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
The call with Johnson was at least Biden’s third call with a foreign counterpart since Friday. The president spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday evening.
Aid to halt immigration
On Saturday, Lopez Obrador said Biden told him the U.S. would send $4 billion to help development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, nations whose hardships have spawned tides of migration through Mexico toward the United States.
López Obrador said that during their Friday call, the two discussed immigration and the need to address the root causes of why people migrate. Mexico has stopped recent attempts by caravans of Central American migrants to cross Mexico.
Biden’s call with López Obrador came at a tense moment, days after the Mexican president accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating drug trafficking charges against the country’s former defense secretary.
But López Obrador said in a statement Friday that the conversation with Biden was “friendly and respectful.”
Biden’s call to Trudeau came after the Canadian prime minister this week publicly expressed disappointment at Biden’s decision to issue an executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The long-disputed project was projected to carry about 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Biden told Trudeau that by issuing the order he was following through on a campaign pledge, a senior Canadian government official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.
The White House said in a statement that Biden acknowledged Trudeau’s disappointment with his Keystone decision.
‘Perfect alignment’ is rare
Trudeau told reporters before the call Friday that he wouldn’t allow his differences with Biden over the project to become a source of tension in the U.S.-Canada relationship.
“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States,” Trudeau said. “That’s the case with any given president, but we’re in a situation where we are much more aligned on values and focus. I am very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”
Biden and Trudeau also discussed the prospects of Canada being supplied with the COVID-19 vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to a second senior Canadian government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.
Canada has been getting all of its Pfizer doses from a Pfizer facility in Puurs, Belgium, but Pfizer has informed Canada it won’t get any doses next week and will get 50% less than expected over the next three weeks. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has publicly asked Biden to share a million doses made at Pfizer’s Michigan facility.
The U.S. federal government has an agreement with Pfizer in which the first 100 million doses of the vaccine produced in the U.S. will be owned by the U.S. government and will be distributed in the U.S.
The two leaders also spoke broadly about trade, defense and climate issues. Trudeau also raised the cases of two Canadians imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Huawei executive, who was apprehended in Canada on a U.S. extradition request, according to the prime minister’s office.