Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump launch task force focused on women in the workforce

Ivanka Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with women business leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington today. Pic: AP

US president Donald Trump and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau have launched a joint effort to advance women in the workplace during a meeting at the White House.

The neighbouring leaders were taking up the subject in their first face-to-face meeting, with Mr Trudeau eager to build a relationship with the new US president.

Mr Trump greeted Mr Trudeau with a firm handshake as he arrived at the White House. Before a private meeting, the duo posed silently before reporters, until Mr Trump suggested they shake hands for the cameras. Mr Trudeau did bring a personal gift - a photo of Mr Trump with Mr Trudeau's father, the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Mr Trump said he knew and respected Pierre Trudeau and would keep the photo in a "very special place".

At a roundtable discussion with female executives from the United States and Canada, Mr Trump and Mr Trudeau announced a task force focused on women in the workforce.

Mr Trump said it was important to ensure the economy is a place where "women can work and thrive".

Mr Trudeau stressed that women have had to overcome barriers to succeed in business.

Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump was in attendance at the meeting and helped recruit participants and set the agenda. The high-profile meeting is evidence of her rising policy influence.

Mr Trump's order to temporarily halt entry into the US by people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, which is tied up in court, might come up during his bilateral meeting with Mr Trudeau. But Mr Trudeau is expected to focus on common economic interests.

Relations with the US are crucial as more than 75% of Canada's exports go to the US, while 18% of US exports go to Canada. There are fears among Canadians that they could be hurt as Mr Trump targets Mexico in a re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

Mr Trudeau's close cooperation with Mr Trump and the first daughter on women in business could ease some worries among Canadians that the US president will enact protectionist measures that could hurt the Canadian economy.

A Canadian official said Mr Trudeau's administration had suggested the task force, because the prime minister considers the issue of working women an important part of his agenda and economic growth plan.

"It's a smart thing if Canada proposed this," said Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto. "It takes attention off of Nafta. And from Trump's point of view, it contributes to softening Trump's image, and he's got a problem with women."

Roland Paris, a former senior foreign policy to Mr Trudeau, said the prime minister needs to build a relationship with Mr Trump to ensure Canada is not shut out economically.

"The overriding priority will be for Canada to maintain secure and reliable access to the US market and the supply chains that criss-cross the border," Mr Paris said.

Mr Trudeau has been preparing for the Trump meeting for months. He will also meet with legislative leaders on Capitol Hill.

AP

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