From the bone-chilling Canadian winter, the land of the conquerors and Frida Kahlo seemed millions of miles away.
But that’s not how North American diplomats, trade experts and business leaders see it – and they hope the continent’s leaders have a similar vision to the so-called “Three People”. you” gathers in Mexico City this week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off three days of North American Leaders Summit events Monday with a gathering of diplomats, government officials and private sector envoys from around the world. continent.
Canadian Business Council chief executive officer Goldy Hyder said at the meeting: “Too often, we act as three independent countries or two bilateral relationships. In today’s world , that will leave us behind.”
Hyder said it’s time for leaders in all three countries to think more about North America as a single, independent unit rather than separate entities.
“How the world is shaping up is really powerful in numbers and volumes. However, in North America, we haven’t really come to that conclusion yet.”
For his part, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged on Monday that the continent was very close to losing NAFTA in 2019, the 25-year-old free trade agreement replaced under Donald Trump with the US-Mexico Agreement- Canada, or USMCA, was signed in 2019. effective in 2020.
“We’re talking among friends now… we’ve almost lost NAFTA,” Trudeau said as he thanked the group for the various roles they played in securing a new deal, known as the so-called NAFTA. CUSMA in Canada.
“The Mexican government, me and my government in Canada, worked very, very hard to try to convince the US government at the time of the importance of trade with friends, the integrated supply chain. , trustworthy partnerships and a continental approach to creating opportunities for our citizens is.”
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden – fresh from his first presidential visit to the politically fraught southern border – sat down the following Monday for a bilateral meeting with his Mexican counterpart. Mr. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
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Prime Minister Trudeau will meet privately with the US president on Tuesday morning before the official part of the summit takes place later in the day.
Gary Doer, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2016, said: “It was a tripartite meeting, a trilateral summit, but there were also a lot of bilateral issues discussed at the summit. those meetings”.
Doer recalls that then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper had many face-to-face meetings with his US counterpart Barack Obama during the last summit in Mexico in 2014.
With Canadian and Mexican manufacturers adding to Biden’s 11th hour plan to encourage sales of climate-friendly electric vehicles, there’s room to talk about more familiar irritants like trade disputes. trade and protectionism in the United States.
In those respects, there is no shortage of points for discussion — despite the cooperative, free-trade spirit that the USMCA should have embodied.
‘New era of trade disputes’
The United States argues that Canada’s supply-managed dairy market denies American producers fair access to customers north of the border. The US also believes that Mexico is unfairly favoring domestic energy suppliers. And both Mexico and Canada say the US isn’t playing fair when it comes to how it defines foreign content in its auto supply chains.
Mexico is also under pressure to reach an agreement with the United States on President Lopez Obrador’s plan to ban imports of genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate, an order that has angered American farmers.
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A report released last week by the Association of the Americas and the Council of the Americas heralded the so-called “new era of trade disputes,” noting that 17 such disagreements have broken out in the USMCA era. , compared with just 77 over the lifetime of NAFTA. – just over three a year on average.
Then there is Buy American, the long-standing, politically pervasive US doctrine of prioritizing domestic suppliers over those of its most neighboring allies.
Canada may have averted disaster when Biden’s electric vehicle tax credits were revised last year to include North American manufacturers, but the president still rarely misses a chance to tout the supply chain. manufactured in the US.
Louise Blais, a retired Canadian diplomat who served as ambassador to the United Nations and consul general in Atlanta, said the green energy incentives currently in place in the US still pose challenges for with Canada.
“I hope both the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada will bring this up with the president to say, ‘Look, we need a more continental approach to some policies,'” Blais said. this’.
“Ultimately it is in the interest of the United States to get those laws right so that they actually promote prosperity across America.”
Migration is expected to dominate the agenda
As a country not immune to the effects of irregular migration and fentanyl flows at the US-Mexico border, Canada also needs to join that conversation, an issue many expect to dominate. agenda.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported nearly 2.4 million deportations and arrests at or near the southern border in the last fiscal year, up 37% from the previous fiscal period. . Anecdotal evidence suggests a post-pandemic increase in irregular migration in both directions at the northern border.
Biden’s Sunday visit to the southern border comes after a fresh crackdown on illegal migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, in addition to existing restrictions on Venezuelan migrants.
At the same time, the US plans to welcome 30,000 new immigrants a month from all four countries for the next two years, as long as they are eligible to work and enter the country legally.
Brian Nichols, the US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, made it clear during a Wilson Center panel discussion on Friday that his country’s unique relationship with Canada will not be lost. in Mexico.
The last North American meeting at the White House in 2021, Nichols said, produced a list of more than 40 different “delivered products” — a huge number by most standards, but none. What a surprise for three countries that share a common border.
“It’s a family conversation in a way that you don’t normally have with other countries,” he said. “The goodwill to advance our common future in those conversations is what really emerges.”
However, Canada generally doesn’t want to be lumped in with Mexico when it comes to relations with the US, said Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Canada-US Business Council.
“They want to have their own unique relationship with the US, so we’ll see if Canada will accept or resist the ‘North American idea’,” Greenwood said.
“Meaning, ‘Think of everything as a block and an area, and let’s work things out together.’ I hope it will accept it. But that will be different.”
Biden has also not directly visited Canada since taking office — a longstanding bilateral tradition that usually takes place shortly after a president’s inauguration, but was interrupted in 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meetings this week could bring new clarity to the timing of Biden’s long-promised trip north – confirmed in the summer, but interrupted when the president himself tested positive for the virus. withdrawal – may take place eventually.