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Trudeau meets with California leaders on trade, health care

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, shakes hands with California Gov. Jerry Brown during a meeting in San Francisco, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, shakes hands with California Gov. Jerry Brown during a meeting in San Francisco, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
By Juliet Williams Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked up promises of investments and jobs during his first official visit to San Francisco, where he promoted Canada as a destination for California technology firms frustrated by uncertain U.S. immigration laws.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced the online business software company will invest another $2 billion in its Canadian operations.

In addition, San Francisco-based AppDirect, a cloud subscription service whose co-CEO met Trudeau in a college political science class, said it would add another 300 jobs in Canada in the next five years.

“I’m enthused about the interest that these global companies are taking in Canada,” Trudeau told reporters at AppDirect. “It is a benefit for those companies that invest in Canada, because they get such a high caliber of talent.”

On Friday, Trudeau met separately with Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, both Democrats. The meetings were closed to the media.

Newsom said later on Twitter that the two talked about trade, the environment and universal health care.

In brief remarks before the meeting, Newsom thanked Trudeau for his “energetic leadership on the international stage … at a time when that’s not lost on many of us in the political sphere.” The comment was an apparent reference to President Donald Trump.

Uncertainty over Trump’s immigration policies has provided momentum for Trudeau’s economic pitch to Silicon Valley, where many companies that rely on foreign workers have become uneasy over increasing scrutiny on the H1-B work visa program.

Trudeau promoted his country’s fast-track employment permit for certain workers, dubbed the “global skills strategy visa.”

Trudeau demurred when asked whether Trump’s immigration efforts are making the sales pitch easier, pointing to the power of globalism.

“We know that bringing in great talent from around the world is an enormous benefit, not just to the companies that want to do that, but to Canadian jobs and to our country as a whole, so we’re going to continue to do that,” he said.

Trudeau also met Thursday with Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos as Bezos considers possible locations for a second headquarters. Toronto, which has created a government-sponsored innovation hub for tech companies, was the only one of several Canadian cities that made the shortlist.

Trudeau’s stop in San Francisco highlights the already strong ties between Canada and California, particularly in research, academia and technology.

While much of the attention on the North American Free Trade Agreement has focused on physical commodities such as vehicle manufacturing, dairy and timber, skilled workers have also become increasingly mobile between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Google built its latest DeepMind artificial intelligence facility at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, after several of its graduates came to work on the project.

The next round of talks over the 24-year-old trade pact in Mexico later this month loomed over Trudeau’s visit. Trump has called the agreement a job-killing “disaster” on the campaign trail and has threatened to withdraw from it if he can’t get what he wants.

The lengthy talks have increased the political pressure and the rhetoric in Canada, where the stakes are high.

Trudeau declined to talk about specifics Thursday, but said Canada wants an agreement that is “win-win-win” for all three countries.

“We’re going to continue to make an argument that it’s not enough to just trade, we have to ensure that the benefits of trade are properly and fairly shared,” he said.

Later Friday, Trudeau will deliver a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

The location is a symbolic choice, referring to the longstanding trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada. In 1988, Reagan and then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the first free trade agreement – a precursor to NAFTA.

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