Three Amigos Summit

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In Canada, Mexican President calls for ‘economic integration’ of North America

Robert Fife – Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Jun. 27, 2016 11:39AM EDT

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto arrived in Canada Monday for an official state visit, using his first remarks to call for the “economic integration” of North America.

Governor-General David Johnston welcomed the Mexican leader at the historic Citadelle in Quebec City as Mr. Nieto begins two days of bilateral talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the premiers of Quebec and Ontario as well as business leaders in advance of Wednesday’s summit of the North American leaders that will include U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Canadians and Mexicans alike share values and development goals and we also share a single vision of the world we want,” Mr. Nieto said. “Let us take stock of our affinity and agreement to bolster innovation and environmental sustainability and also to foster the economic integration of North America.”

During their bilateral talks, officials say Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Nieto will remind North Americans “how lucky we are to be where we are … and we are a lot more successful when we tackle shared problems together rather than put up walls.”

The three leaders of North America will trumpet the benefits of liberalized free trade and the necessity of countries to work in unison when they gather in Ottawa for a summit that had been set up largely to focus on the environment but has been turned upside down by the stunning British vote to exit the European Union.

But the shocking British vote to secede from the EU has forced the leaders to reassess the game plan and put a greater emphasis on free trade when they gather for the one-day summit to be held at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

“These three leaders are aligned in believing we need trade relations and we are very lucky to have a continental approach,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in an interview. “When you look at the North American market, it is a very significant market. It is a great message to the world that we are working together and we believe in trade.”

Mr. Trudeau will also rescind visa restrictions on Mexican travellers, a major irritant since 2009, when they were imposed by the former Conservative government to curb the flow of bogus refugees.

“We are a progressive government. The visas are being lifted. That is a campaign commitment to Mexicans,” Ms. McKenna said.

Sources say the two leaders will sign agreements on educational exchanges, and share “best practices” on ending the social isolation and exploitation of indigenous people in both countries. Canada will also offer intelligence and training to combat Mexico’s drug violence.

However, Canadian and Mexican officials say the real aim of the discussions is to set up a partnership to combat what both leaders see as rising protectionist sentiment in the U.S., their biggest trading partner.

A Mexican official noted that both countries teamed up to fight U.S. action, through the World Trade Organization, on country-of-origin labelling for meat products, as well as an attempt by the United States during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to allow Japanese vehicles to be imported tariff-free to North America, with just 30-per-cent content. Canada and Mexico forced the cap up to 45 per cent. It is currently 62.5 per cent.

“The protectionist fires are starting to blow, whether we are talking about Hillary Clinton and her opposition to TPP or Donald Trump, who is anti-everything and wants to build a wall between Mexico. We are going to need allies to try and fend off these protectionist winds,” Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said in an interview. “Working with Mexico on country of origin and the TPP, we were able to push back – but especially on country of origin, which is basically a protectionist measure. By both threatening retaliatory action, Congress folded. On our own, we would not have been successful.”

About 40 per cent of what the United States buys from Mexico starts out in the United States, while 25 per cent of what Americans buy from Canada comes from the United States.

Measures to tackle climate change, including a commitment from Mexico to join Canada and the United States to reduce methane gases by 40 per cent, will be announced on Wednesday, as well as harmonization of environmental regulations.

“Canada and Mexico will sign a memorandum of understanding to work together on sharing information on how to foster native languages, protect indigenous art and help women facing domestic and street violence, as well as look at ways to engage indigenous people as partners in resource development.