07/14/2017 12:40 EDT

Justin Trudeau to deliver keynote speech at U.S. governors meeting

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver a keynote address at a conference of U.S. governors in Rhode Island Friday.

Trudeau will be introduced by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, who will deliver remarks of his own in place of President Donald Trump. Trump accepted a last-minute invitation to France for Bastille Day festivities. will carry the remarks live starting at 1:15 p.m. ET.

After the speeches, Trudeau will meet one-on-one with the former Indiana governor turned vice-president.

  • Governor says he'll be ally if NAFTA talks go sideways
  • Trump promises to tax steel imports
  • Trudeau looks to court U.S. governors as NAFTA talks loom

Trudeau will be the first Canadian prime minister, or foreign leader, to address the usually sleepy conference of state leaders. It is a chance for the Liberal leader to make his pitch for Canada to the individual states ahead of NAFTA renegotiation talks, which are set to begin in August.

The U.S. will release its negotiating objectives for the decades-old trade deal next week, and Canada will then know which areas Trump intends to revisit.

Trump has repeatedly called the trade deal a "disaster" for U.S. workers and has vowed to rip it up if he can't get concessions from Canada and Mexico.

"[Trudeau] will focus on the importance of trade between our two countries, reaffirming our commitment to ensuring that the advantages of trade will continue to benefit middle class families on both sides of the border, and across the continent," according to a background supplied to reporters traveling with the prime minister.

"He will also emphasize the importance of the Canada-U.S. partnership in cross-border security and the potential for common solutions on climate change."

Trudeau's visit is part of a strategy to focus not only on politicians in Washington, who will ultimately decide the fate of NAFTA, but also to make inroads with other levels of government.

It is not only NAFTA that Trudeau has to contend with. Canada also faces the threat of Trump imposing duties on Canadian steel imports. And the softwood lumber file is still up in the air after the U.S. administration imposed duties and tariffs on Canadian products crossing the border.

Both sides are furiously working on a deal to bring an end to the standoff over softwood.

Governor will stand with Canada '100%'

Ahead of the speech, Trudeau held a series of bilateral meetings with several governors, including leaders from Kentucky, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Iowa.

CBC News spoke to a number of the U.S. governors Thursday ahead of the speech, and most reaffirmed their support for continued trade relations with their neighbour to the north.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a strong Trump supporter, sought to reassure Canadians Thursday. He said the president's tough talk is simply of his negotiation tactics, and what he really wants is a renewed deal that is fair to all sides.

"That's how businesspeople do business, and he's not kidding. Canada should not expect a better deal than America," Bevin said in an interview with CBC. 

"But what he's really saying is that it needs to be updated, and it does. He's not saying we're going to get rid of it in its entirety, he's created, however, a dialogue that has forced people to the table and that's healthy."

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said he will stand with Canada "100 per cent" if talks go sour. It is not just out of consideration for close Canadian ties but also self-interest.

Thirty-five U.S. states count Canada as their No. 1 trading partner, and more than $1 million in goods across the border every minute in any given year.