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Trudeau talks gender equality at Washington summit

The prime minister discussed how trade issues affect women differently from men, and had words of advice for female high school students in attendance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Ivanka Trump look on during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit and Gala in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Ivanka Trump look on during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit and Gala in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

WASHINGTON—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked politely about U.S. President Donald Trump and talked up gender equality at the first event of his second official trip to Trump’s Washington.

Interviewed onstage Tuesday night at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, Trudeau stuck to his usual script for discussing the president he will meet with on Wednesday: avoid controversy, emphasize common ground.

Asked how he thinks about talking to Trump versus other world leaders, Trudeau said his method is “always consistent” — “look for areas of agreement.” He said he and Trump differ on some issues but were elected on similar promises to make life better for the middle class.

“I have conversations with the president every few weeks on any number of things,” he said.

Trudeau did make a joke about his desire to avoid talking about the president in public. Asked, as usual, about his creative socks, he crowed that he had just “used up” five seconds of a Trump conversation.

One of Trudeau’s answers underscored the vast personality gulf between the two leaders. Asked what he had learned from his father, late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, he said, “To trust people.” One of Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr., has said that Trump repeatedly told him as a child, “Never trust anybody.”

Trudeau promoted his government’s proposal to include a chapter on gender in a revised North American Free Trade Agreement. When interviewer Pattie Sellers asked what such a chapter would mean, he said, “It means recognizing that trade has different impacts on women that it does on men.”

He spoke of the importance of retaining, not merely recruiting, female politicians. Asked about advice for the female high school students from Washington who were in attendance, he encouraged them to persevere even though they will have to fight battles their male classmates do not.

After the interview, Trudeau spoke to each of the 30-odd students seated at a centre table in the National Portrait Gallery courtyard, getting down on one knee to talk to many of them as they sat. Some of the students appeared overcome with emotion.

“It’s overwhelming. But he makes it real comfortable, so it’s easy to talk to him,” said Akhayla Reynolds, 16.

Trudeau’s talk at the event was the original reason for his Washington visit, his office said. His meeting with Trump was added later.

“I was in town for this, just so you know,” he said, to laughter and applause, when Sellers first asked about the meeting.

Trudeau is also scheduled to participate Wednesday morning in a discussion on gender equality. He will be joined by his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

He will then speak to the members of the powerful House of Representatives ways and means committee, which has significant influence over trade, before meeting with Trump at the White House around 2 p.m.

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