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Northeast governors, eastern Canada premiers meet in Vermont

New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers sit during a news conference in Stowe, Vermont, on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

STOWE, Vt. (AP) -- Some governors from the northeast U.S. and premiers from eastern Canada on Monday called for the end of the trade war between the U.S. and Canada and a successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement as they gathered in Vermont for an annual meeting.

Despite the dispute between Washington and Ottawa, participants in the 42nd annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers said the cooperative ties between those states and provinces remain strong.

The conference at the Stowe Mountain ski resort came as the U.S., Canada and Mexico are renegotiating NAFTA. The group heard from experts in energy storage, electric vehicle innovation and NAFTA and tariffs.

Three of the region's six governors attended. New Hampshire and Rhode Island sent other officials and Maine's governor didn't attend.

A major takeaway from the meeting was that "the Mexican-U.S.-Canadian trading block as a participant on the global stage ... is far more influential and powerful together than it is apart," for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. "And I would hope that people would recognize and understand that renewing the current agreement among these three players will make them all better among themselves but also make them a much more significant and important player in global trade discussions."

At the end of the day, the co-chairs of the conference, Republican Gov. Phil Scott and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant signed a resolution concerning NAFTA and the benefits of cross border trade. In it, the governors and premiers acknowledged the economic interdependence across the region and contribution of cross-border trade to their states' and provinces' economic prosperity.

While the region has had a longstanding cooperative relationship and bonds among the leaders, concerns about the trade dispute hung over the meeting.

"We are now facing a situation where we we're dealing with tariffs and counter tariffs. It's to nobody's advantage," said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Scott said he didn't believe trade wars worked. "I think it leads to isolation among our countries and especially the way it's being done right now, the retaliation on both sides, obviously leads to relationship damage and nothing you can fix in a matter of a couple of years he said. "It takes a long time."

After a June meeting of the Group of Seven in Charlevoix, Quebec, Trump called Trudeau "dishonest" and "weak." Then White House trade adviser Peter Navarro asserted Trudeau "deserves a special place in hell" for attempting to "stab (Trump) in the back." Navarro later apologized.

The U.S.-imposed tariffs on Canadian steel are already being felt in the region, officials said.

Trump's rhetoric has made the relationship between the U.S. and Canada more fragile, said Couillard.

"We've been allies, we've been neighbors, we've fought wars together ... We didn't expect that type of relationship from our friend, ally and neighbor," he said.

"We've always been friends and allies and neighbors. And we really want it to be that way again," Couillard said.

During the meeting about a half dozen protesters demonstrated outside against hydropower dams in Canada and what they say is not enough action to address climate change.

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