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Obama Goes To Canada For First Foreign Trip


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Ari Shapiro. Good morning.

President Obama did yesterday what some 300,000 people do every day: he crossed the border into Canada. Mr. Obama's Canadian visit drew more attention than most. He met with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The two men pledged to strengthen the longstanding ties between the two countries, but they did have some differences.

NPR's Scott Horsley traveled with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The visit to Ottawa was Mr. Obama's first foreign trip as president. He said he's eager for the U.S. to re-exert leadership in the world, and that means renewing alliances with long-term friends like Canada.

President BARACK OBAMA: As neighbors we are so closely linked that sometimes we may have a tendency to take our relationship for granted. But the very success of our friendship throughout history demands that we renew and deepen our cooperation here in the 21st century.

HORSLEY: Certainly the Canadians weren't taking this visit for granted. National news broadcasts have been trumpeting the president's trip for days, and thousands of people gathered on the snow-covered parliament hill to cheer the arrival of Mr. Obama's motorcade.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper later called the two men's lunchtime meeting very productive. It wasn't without its friction points though, including Afghanistan. While the U.S. is expanding its military force there to battle a resurgent Taliban, Canada has decided to withdraw combat forces by 2011.

Harper said he doesn't believe Western military forces can establish peace and security in the country - only the Afghans can. Mr. Obama said only that he's grateful for the sacrifices Canadians have already made; more than 100 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan.

President OBAMA: I certainly did not press the prime minister on any additional commitments beyond the ones that have already been made. All I did was to compliment Canada.

HORSLEY: The two leaders also exchanged some gentle jabs over trade. Canada has been worried about the president's commitment to free trade ever since candidate Obama called for a renegotiation of NAFTA during last year's Democratic primary. Those worries have been reignited by the Buy American provision that Congress included in the newly passed economic stimulus package.

The measure gives preferential treatment to U.S.-made steel, iron and manufactured goods and public works projects funded by the stimulus. The Canadian prime minister warned that could backfire.

Prime Minister STEPHEN HARPER (Canada): If we pursue stimulus packages the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves or to benefit ourselves worse at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has offered reassurance that the U.S. will comply with its global trade agreements. He said the recession is no time to go down a path towards protectionism, tempting though it may be.

President OBAMA: As obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries.

HORSLEY: Trading conditions are hugely important to business on both sides of the border. Every day nearly $2 billion worth of goods and services flow between the two countries. Mr. Obama did his part to boost those numbers yesterday.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: After leaving the parliament building, the president made a surprise stop at an Ottawa marketplace, where he picked up a souvenir snow globe and key chain for his daughters, along with a local pastry called a beavertail.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.