January 3, 2017 / 10:39 PM / 7 months ago

Fearing protectionism, Canada's Trudeau reaches out to U.S. Congress

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 15, 2016.Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out in a video address to the new U.S. Congress on Tuesday to stress how tightly linked the economies of Canada and the United States are, amid fears of a protectionist Trump administration.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to either renegotiate or scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has said overhauling trade policy will be a top priority after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States and could suffer from changes to NAFTA, which also includes Mexico. Ford Motor Co (F.N) on Tuesday scrapped a planned Mexican car factory and added 700 jobs in Michigan following criticism by Trump, who turned his attention toward General Motors Co (GM.N) with the threat of a "big border tax" over compact cars made in Mexico.

In the video address, Trudeau and David MacNaughton, the Canadian ambassador to Washington, stressed the closeness of ties between the neighbors.

"We've built an economic relationship that supports jobs in every Congressional district. We are the largest international customer for goods and services made in the USA," said Trudeau, who was filmed in his office in front of the U.S. and Canadian flags.

MacNaughton said Canada was ready to work with Congress to make the lives of citizens in both nations better and more prosperous.

Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said ambassadors had sent video greetings to the two previous opening sessions of Congress.

Trudeau, who has made ties with the United States a priority, was asked by the embassy to appear in the video, she said. Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad declined to elaborate on the video, saying the prime minister's message spoke for itself.

In the run-up to the 2016 U.S election, Canadian diplomats fanned out across the country to stress that Canada is the top export destination for 35 U.S. states‎ and that nine million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Grant McCool

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