Embracing the Americas Starting with Mexico

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Excerpted from May edition Policy Options Embracing the Americas, starting with Mexico

If Canadians needed a wake-up call to the power of regional blocs and the pace of political integration within the European Union, we got it last fall with our failure to secure a seat on the Security Council as a member of the Western European and Other Group (WEOG). The message is clear: we aren’t European. It is time we recognized geography and embraced our place in the Americas.

We’ve created the most successful bilateral relationship in the world with the United States. It will always be our primordial relationship. But our usually comfortable alignment with the colossus has meant that we’ve been reluctant to look further south on the continental map. The US has never thought this way and the since the earliest days of the Republic they’ve always been active in the Americas and the Monroe Doctrine (1823) has been one of the most durable and longstanding element in American foreign policy.

The combined populations of the Americas south of the Rio Grande gives them the potential over the coming decades to develop into a market as important as that of the EU, China and India. Growth rates are predicted to be 4.1 per cent a year for the next five years – double that of the G8 economies. The Chinese get it and are making significant investments. And with China competing with America for influence, there are geo-political reasons for our making our presence felt because we also have significant interests in the Americas. Yet, as a recent report conducted by our Department of Foreign Affairs concluded, we need “more concrete evidence on the ground of Canada’s interest.” Our relevance in the region will also be measured in terms of our capacity and willingness to participate in the broader social, political and economic agenda.

The Bank of Nova Scotia opened its first branch outside of Canada in Kingston, Jamaica in 1889 and Canadian banks are now found throughout the Caribbean. Our Foreign Direct Investment in the Americas outside USA is three times that in Asia. We’ve created a network of FTAs, far more in Latin America than in Asia: with Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Peru. The Panama FTA is before Parliament and we are negotiating with Honduras, Caribbean Community and we’ve started discussions with MERCOSUR. We are now the number one investor in Chile. Despite bumps in the road, we have a growing strategic relationship with Brazil, the bookend to Mexico in Latin America. In terms of aid and development, we are committed to Haiti for the long-term.

By embracing the Americas we also play back into our principal relationship with the United States because when successive administrations, especially since Ronald Reagan, think strategically about the Americas, they think start with the trilateral relationship of Mexico and Canada. We should do the same and start our embrace of the Americas with Mexico.