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What to expect as Trudeau meets Biden, López Obrador this week


The North American Leaders Summit has grown larger and more formal since the first “Three Friends” meeting hosted by then-US President George W. Bush in Texas in 2005.

As President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hosts US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his home turf in Mexico City this week, the global threats facing these regional partners also increase .

NALS (rhymes with “girl”) — acronym used by diplomats and stakeholders for this sometimes irregular but now revive and recur meeting of allies in the region – now more of a business than a friendship. That is partly driven by the political views of the individuals at the table, but also because the current challenges seem to demand it.

“I won’t use Three Amigos anymore,” said Carlo Dade, director of the trade and investment center at the Canada West Foundation, who also specializes in Latin American policy and is a member of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. know. “I think it’s a subtle sign of a change… a little more formal, a little more serious.

“You always have a kind of closeness to the relationship that was discarded when [Donald] Trump has come,” Dade said, referring to the former US president evading the summit and frequently blaming Mexico for America’s problems.

While Trump has been replaced by Biden, protectionist policies persist in Washington. López Obrador took office in 2018 on the back of his own wave of nationalism, and now he needs to cement his legacy as the second half of his six-year term comes to an end.

“He’s a Trump populist,” said Dade.

Domestic politics versus global challenges

Even under warm Mexican skies, this January gathering of neighbors and business partners is not as sunny as before.

But if it is cooler and more calculated, is that a problem — especially for Canada and its deeply integrated economy?

“It’s not about [warmth]Amy Porges, a Washington-based trade attorney who has watched trade records evolve over the decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented.

“Canada has always valued the United States more than the United States values ​​Canada… [and] for López Obrador, domestic politics is everything.”

Mr. Porges said the populist Mexican president wants to reverse his predecessors’ decision to integrate Mexico with the US economy. Meanwhile, the US needs Mexico’s cooperation in the supply chain.

“Competition with China is the number one issue for the Biden administration at this point,” she said.

US President Joe Biden is welcomed by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
U.S. President Joe Biden is greeted by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador upon his arrival at Felipe Angeles International Airport in Zumpango, Mexico, on January 8, 2023. (AP photo/Fernando Llano)

During a briefing at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, on Friday, Brian Nichols, the US assistant secretary of state for affairs in the Western Hemisphere, hinted that the US would soon release more details when the Framework Economic prosperity in the growing Indo-Pacific.

That multilateral dialogue with 13 trading partners — at least at first — did not include Canada or Mexico, leading some to wonder why North American trading partners were excluded from discussions on the matter. regulatory harmonization and a more integrated supply chain.

Dade thinks Americans may be rethinking.

“They need to win. They need to keep the momentum going. Canada is there, like a middle school kid who wants to sit at the cool lunch table of kids who are finally allowed in. And Mexico is mocked too. that they’re not included,” he said.

On the other hand, Canada and Mexico want to keep the privileged access to the US market they enjoy. Neither Canada nor Mexico were interested in last month’s request from Costa Rica to pursue membership in the North American trade agreement.

“The Three Amigos Club has suddenly become three amigos again when you talk about leaving Ticos [Costa Ricans] or others joining NAFTA,” he said.

Trudeau’s challenge: getting attention?

Louise Blais, a former Canadian diplomat who now works with the Canadian Business Council, noted in a separate press conference on Friday that Biden’s summit appearance came in the midst of Biden’s first visit. he traveled to the Mexican border this weekend, to amplify his administration’s latest regulatory effort. migration and key talks in Washington on Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as US-Indo-Pacific (pronounced: China) priorities evolve.

“Canada’s goal is probably to gain attention and space at this summit,” Blais said. Among Canada’s priorities, Ms Blais said she was “hopeful” about resolving the ongoing energy disputes with Mexico.

During Friday’s pre-White House briefing on the summit’s priorities, Mexico appeared far more often than Canada.

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, was asked whether Mexico’s recent discrimination against foreign investors in the energy sector could escalate or resolved in the negotiations this week or not. He said he didn’t want to get ahead of Biden, but “obviously trade issues will be on the agenda.”

Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets the crowd in Mexico City
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets supporters during a rally in support of his administration, in Mexico City, on November 27, 2022. (AP photo/Fernando Llano)

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau said he “absolutely” hopes to make progress on addressing this energy issue. While the nationalization of Mexico’s electricity grid remains a top priority for López Obrador, the country may need foreign capital, especially to transition to cleaner technology and meet some of its climate goals. Mexican government.

If the Mexican president doesn’t make concessions, Canada could join the United States in requesting a panel investigation under the revised NAFTA dispute settlement process, known in Canada as CUSMA.

That would add another record to a pile that already includes 17 other disputes initiated over the past two years between the three partners, as the revised agreement covers more thorny areas excluded from NAFTA. initially, such as the dairy trade and labor rights.

In other respects, the tripartite talks may not look like a trade summit, although economic integration is a clear shared interest. The list of participants does not include Biden’s trade representative, although the trade ministers of Canada and Mexico will be there, along with the foreign ministers of all three countries, who are holding the talks. private judgement.

The list of summit priorities published by the Mexican foreign office talks about “diversity, equity and inclusion, the environment, competitiveness with the rest of the world, migration and development”. development, public health and security.”

Dade believes that the “fair and inclusive” agenda will include creating opportunities for Indigenous peoples.

“It’s a difficult problem in each country, for different reasons: different history, different approach. But each government has made a new commitment to seriously address these issues. “, he said.

Report a car impounded

A sign that leaders may not want to talk much about the trade dispute: a much-anticipated report by a panel on how North America’s content in the auto sector has gone unpublished prior to the summit, although all three countries had already reported it. as of December 28.

In some loose talk reported last month, Mexican officials revealed that the US argument in favor of a stricter definition failed to convince the panel. But its exact reason has yet to be made public, providing leaders with an easy way to avoid any questions about it this week.

“With a summit like this, what you want is harmony and good sentiment… you want friendly photos of leaders shaking hands. You don’t necessarily want conflict. “, said commercial attorney Porges.

She said auto companies in all three countries will be pleased with this workshop report because they want their supply chains to be more flexible as they compete globally.

In other words: what seems like a political loss to the Biden administration could help bring costs down in the field as a whole, and it’s a win for consumers.

Canada and Mexico find common ground in trying to curb American protectionism in the auto industry. Both prefer to cooperate rather than compete with the US Treasury Department as it offers subsidies and rebates for cleaner technologies.

But Dade isn’t sure Canada’s interests fully align with those of Mexico — the two countries are also vying for new investment in electric vehicles and key minerals, for example.

“Are we united?” Dade asked rhetorically. “And if you’re Trudeau, can you believe [López Obrador]?”

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