Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled an outing on Monday to place calls on trade, his spokesperson said, as he prepares to confront both China and Canada this week.

Reporters were summoned for the presidential motorcade on Monday morning, but shortly after Trump emerged from the White House wearing golf attire, the trip was cancelled and the press dismissed for the day. The White House did not say where he had planned to go. Trump spent much of the weekend at his northern Virginia golf club.

"The president stayed at the White House to make calls specifically on trade and other international issues," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an e-mail. She did not elaborate.

Trump’s trade negotiators are in difficult talks with their Canadian counterparts over a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) already agreed to by the US and Mexico. At the weekend, Trump warned Congress that it may have to accept a new version of the trade pact that excludes Canada, a prospect with almost no support in either party.

As soon as Thursday, Trump may also implement tariffs on as much as $200bn in additional Chinese products, escalating his trade war with the Asian powerhouse.

The president began his Labor Day holiday by attacking Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the largest US labour union umbrella group. Trumka offered relatively low-key criticism of the Mexico-only approach in an interview on Fox News Sunday, calling Nafta in its current form "devastating" to American workers but questioning how it could be renegotiated without Canada.

"Our economies are integrated," Trumka said on Fox News Sunday. "It’s hard to see how that would work without Canada on the deal."

Trump, who said in a tweet at the weekend that keeping Canada in the pact is not a "political necessity", belittled Trumka and the labour movement in a tweet. He has been counting on union support for his trade negotiations to pressure congressional Democrats into backing new agreements.

"Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, represented his union poorly on television this weekend. Some of the things he said were so against the working men and women of our country, and the success of the US itself, that it is easy to see why unions are doing so poorly. A Dem!"

The AFL-CIO did not respond directly. It posted a tweet on Monday recognising Labor Day with audio from a Trumka speech that began, "We don’t fear the attacks against us."

The Trump administration notified Congress on Friday that he planned to sign a trade deal with Mexico in 90 days, and that Canada would be included "if it is willing". Talks are to resume between US and Canadian negotiators on Wednesday, although Trump has indicated that he is unwilling to compromise on US demands that include its northern neighbour dropping tariffs on American dairy products and eliminating a dispute resolution mechanism in Nafta.

"If we don’t make a fair deal for the US after decades of abuse, Canada will be out," Trump said in a tweet on Saturday. "Congress should not interfere w/these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off."

The White House did not respond on Monday to questions about the Canadian negotiations and whether any US legislators of either party support the president’s position.