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North America's Three Amigos Take Aim At Trump And Brexit

Barack Obama says free trade has led to wealth inequality, but closing borders is not the answer.

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As Europe threatens to split apart, the leaders of North America flaunted their togetherness at the Three Amigos summit in Ottawa.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

Between photo-ops and horrifically awkward three-way handshakes, the leaders promised a series of pacts on Wednesday. These include a target of 50% green electricity by 2025 to an agreement to protect monarch butterflies.

But the elephant in the room was the rise of global protectionism. Their speeches frequently turned to Britain's exit from the European Union and Donald Trump, who is promising to end the North America Free Trade Agreement.

“Cooperation pays off. Working together always beats going it alone," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, standing between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto at a press conference.

Obama's statements to reporters took a surprising turn when he agreed that the rise of free trade is linked to growing wealth inequality that benefits the 1% and hurts the world's poorest citizens.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

“Ordinary people who have concerns about trade have a legitimate gripe about globalization," he said.

"What we’ve seen is trend lines across the advanced economies of growing inequality and stagnant wages and a smaller and smaller share of overall productivity and growth going to workers."

But Obama argued that closing borders is the wrong answer, and the shrinking of the middle class is due more to automation than jobs being shipped overseas.

“The steel industry is producing as much steel in the United States as it ever was, it’s just it needs one tenth of the workers that it used to," he said.

Instead of protectionism, Obama called for engaging with other countries to improve protections for workers, the environment and intellectual property.

He echoed that message while speaking before Canada's House of Commons later in the day.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

He seemed to take aim at Trump again, this time on the immigration file, emphasizing the need to denounce "those that offer politics of us vs. them." Obama also praised Canada for resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees.

The outgoing U.S. president touched on everything from the beaches of Normandy to hockey legend Gordie Howe in an effusively complimentary speech about the friendship between Canada and the United States.

Though even hockey was a touchy subject.

"Our only battles now take place in the hockey rink," Obama says which is extremely insensitive given today's events.


Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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