Trump, Trudeau mend fences at White House meeting
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and American President Donald Trump (White House photo)

President Donald Trump hosted his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday to mend fences after last year's diplomatic meltdown and to push the still un-ratified North American free trade deal.

The two men have had a rocky relationship since Trump walked out of a G7 summit in Quebec last June, but are keen for the trade deal, known as the USMCA, to kick in soon.

"It means a lot of jobs for our country, a lot of wealth for all three countries," Trump said alongside Trudeau in the Oval Office.

"This brings us into a position where we're not competing with each other, we're competing against the world."

Mexico's legislature ratified the accord, which was struck last year, on Wednesday. Canada has yet to follow suit but the real question mark hangs over the US Congress.

Democrats, who control the lower house, have expressed concern over worker protections and other elements of the USMCA, which replaces the previous regional agreement NAFTA.

While Trump has repeatedly called on legislators to give their approval, his relations with Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are at rock bottom.

Further complicating the situation is the looming presidential election in which Trump is expected to face a tough fight after a first term that has left the country deeply polarized.

"We have an election coming up, but I think Nancy Pelosi will do the right thing," Trump said at his meeting with Trudeau.

Trudeau, who faces his own federal elections in October, clashed repeatedly with Trump last year, with the two countries briefly engaging in a trade war over steel and aluminum.

- Trump warns on violations -

At the 2018 G7 hosted by Canada, Trump left early without signing the joint declaration and called Trudeau "weak."

On Thursday, Trump said that he did not foresee more trade wars -- provided that Canada and Mexico stick to the rules on what is called transshipping. This is when a country disguises exports of a product by sending it to a market via a third country.

"Well, we'll see. They have to do what they have to do," he said. "We can't have big -- tremendous -- shipments of certain products. We understand that very well."

"There won't be transshipping. If there is, I'll call Justin, he'll take care of (it)," Trump said.

"I'll probably call him a second time and if he doesn't, we'll have to talk. But I think that situation is very well taken care of."

Trump also offered to intervene in the case of two Canadians held in China in what is widely seen as retaliation for the arrest in Canada of a senior executive from controversial tech giant Huawei.

"Anything I can do to help Canada I will be doing," said Trump, who will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week at a meeting in Japan. "I would at Justin's request."

So far, Mexico leads the three huge countries in getting USMCA on board. The vote on Wednesday was overwhelmingly positive, reflecting the fact that the deal and the similar NAFTA agreement that it replaces have made Mexico a trading powerhouse.

The three countries signed the USMCA on November 30 after a year of tough negotiations triggered by Trump's insistence on replacing NAFTA, which he called "the worst trade deal ever made."

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he was confident there would be progress on ratification in "the next couple of weeks."

He called Mexico's ratification "a crucial step forward."