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Trudeau arrives in Golden State for APEC summit in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focused on old friendships and newfangled paths to affordability Wednesday as he touched down in California for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with California Governor Gavin Newsom, in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

SAN FRANCISCO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focused on old friendships and newfangled paths to affordability Wednesday as he touched down in California for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. 

The government's newly acquired Airbus CC-330 taxied to a stop at San Francisco International Airport, where Kirsten Hillman, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., led a coterie of emissaries who greeted the prime minister as he disembarked. 

The iconic motorcycle cops of the California Highway Patrol accompanied the prime minister's motorcade, sirens blaring, to the edge of the security zone where the summit is being held. 

Trudeau's first order of business was a bilateral meeting with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a kindred liberal spirit whose efforts to combat climate change have made him a prominent and valuable ally. 

"I think you gave me these socks last time," a visibly relaxed Trudeau told his old friend, showing off the embroidered image of the Golden Gate Bridge that adorned his ankles. 

"You're still doing those socks," said Newsom, who appeared genuinely taken aback. "Have you ever been caught with black socks on?"

Newsom seized on Trudeau's description of Canadian society as "pluralistic" — a standard he said he has long aspired to in the Golden State.  

"Every time I see you, I say that's a word we don't hear," he said, describing California as the most diverse state in the union. 

He cited a memorandum of understanding the two leaders signed last summer in Los Angeles that has already spawned work on a burgeoning network of electric-vehicle charging stations up the West Coast and into British Columbia. 

Trudeau later visited a sprawling produce distribution centre where he met with educators, government officials and leaders from the tech and agri-food to talk about ways to confront the affordability crisis. 

He surveyed a display of U.S. and homegrown produce, including Canadian mushrooms and B.C. potatoes, before sitting down to talk about how to keep a healthy lifestyle affordable for Canadians and their families.

"People are challenged right now on a whole bunch of different levels," Trudeau said, citing inflation and higher interest rates, a housing shortage and the looming spectres of climate change and global conflict.

"There are a lot of reasons people get anxious — and when people get anxious, they tend to really get pessimistic and withdraw from engaging in our democracy and in the positive future we're trying to build," he said. 

"Families that can't feed their kids, can't put food on the table, lead to instability and insecurity in every other part of our lives." 

Trudeau and the rest of his delegation, including International Trade Minister Mary Ng and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, later attended an APEC reception hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. 

"The challenges before us today are unlike those faced by previous groups of APEC leaders," Biden told the crowd gathered at the Exploratorium, an interactive science and "human perception" museum at the edge of San Francisco Bay. 

Those challenges, he said, include harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence while minimizing its risks, confronting the climate crisis with real solutions and developing resilient and reliable supply chains.  

"The challenges may be different, but our strongest tools to meet them — those challenges remain the same as they were with our first APEC leaders' summit: connection, co-operation, collective action, and common purpose." 

Biden also made reference to his four-hour meeting Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, part of a bid to defuse a year of international tensions — a meeting that quickly became the summit's focal point. 

The pair agreed to make an effort to stabilize bilateral ties, agreeing on steps to address the flow of illegal fentanyl and re-establish military communications.

"Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed," Xi told Biden.

The U.S. president told Xi: "I think it's paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunications. We have to ensure competition does not veer into conflict."

They reached agreements to curb illicit fentanyl production and to reopen military ties, a senior U.S. official said after the meeting ended. Many of the chemicals used to make synthetic fentanyl come from China to cartels that traffic the powerful narcotic into the U.S., which is facing an overdose crisis.

Top military leaders will resume talks, increasingly important particularly as unsafe or unprofessional incidents between the two nations’ ships and aircraft have spiked, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the agreements ahead of Biden's remarks.

The U.S. official described a significant back and forth between the two leaders over Taiwan, with Biden chiding China over its massive military build-up around Taiwan and Xi telling Biden he had no plans to invade the island.

Biden, the official said, said the U.S. was committed to continuing to help Taiwan defend itself and maintain deterrence against a potential Chinese attack, and also called on China to avoid meddling in the island’s elections next year. The official described the Taiwan portion of the talks as “clear-headed” and “not heated.”

Biden also called on Xi to use his influence with Iran to make clear that Tehran, and its proxies, should not take steps that would lead to an expansion of the Israel-Hamas war.

Trudeau, meanwhile, will be aiming for tangible progress on policy priorities in the Indo-Pacific, during bilateral meetings with fellow APEC leaders.

Federal officials say at least two bilateral economic initiatives with key Indo-Pacific partners will be on Canada's "deliverables" list. 

The absence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also makes it unlikely there will be much drama surrounding Trudeau's allegations of a link between agents of India's government and the June shooting death of a prominent Sikh leader in B.C. 

There's still plenty of important work for Canada to do at APEC, officials say: It's vital to be at the table in a part of the world where the decisions that are made are likely to affect Canadians for generations. 

The main goals for Trudeau include deeper collaboration with APEC nations that will foster middle-class growth and healthy regional competition, all with an eye toward advancing the fight against climate change. 

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for about half of the world's merchandise trade, and is the destination for more than 88 per cent of Canadian exports. APEC's merchandise exports and imports alike now both exceed US$12 trillion annually.  

Canada's share of that pie reached $1.3 trillion last year, an increase of 22 per cent, thanks to partners that include the U.S., China, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. 

The summit comes one year after the Liberal government launched a new $2.3-billion Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at fortifying regional alliances as a hedge against China's expansive power. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2023. 

— With files from The Associated Press

James McCarten, The Canadian Press