3 Amigos Meet in Mexico

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The latest round of trilateral talks will focus on the global economy, climate change
By Kathleen Harris – Edmonton Sun
Saturday, August 8, 2009

The global recession, climate change and the controversial Buy American program will be front and centre tomorrow when North American leaders meet for two days of top-level talks in Guadalajara.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joins U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon Sunday to forge a joint path forward for clean energy and continental might against competing global powerhouses. The annual gathering, dubbed the “three amigos” summit after it debuted in 2005, is designed to craft a multi-year framework for security and prosperity for North America in the face of an international financial crisis.

This time, though, the security and prosperity partnership and its streamlining of regulations is taking a back seat as the three leaders focus on the recession that has rocked the economies of all three countries. Harper is expected to take a strong stand against protectionist measures such as the U.S. Buy American plan which has hit some Canadian exporters hard.

The Guadalajara summit comes only a few weeks after Canada angered Mexico by slapping visa requirements on Mexican visitors — a move designed to stem the growing tide of Mexicans claiming refugee status in Canada.

Fighting the H1N1 flu virus, developing a common position on climate change and battling the growing problem of drug trafficking will also be on the agenda.

Prof. Robert Pastor, co-director of the Center for North American Studies and a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, said the meetings are critical to stress the mutual importance of trilateral relations. But he believes past summits have failed to seize or build on bigger opportunities for collaboration.

“It’s an absence of leadership and imagination by the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “Mexico, interestingly, has had lots of ideas, but they have always been rejected.”

Now in the throes of a global recession, the three countries have not adequately strategized to maximize stimulus and sector support spending to lift up the collective economy, Pastor said.
Canada has also chronically failed to foster better ties with Mexico. “Canada is very multilateral in its approach around the world except in the one region that matters most to it — North America,” he said. “It seems to prefer a bilateral relationship exclusively with the United States.”

Pastor said all three countries would benefit from strengthening Mexico’s economy. He also suggested more scholarships in each of the three countries to deepen understanding and enhance diplomatic and economic ties.

In the past, the summits have drawn loud criticism and large protest gatherings. Stuart Trew, a trade and labour activist travelling to Mexico representing the Council of Canadians, holds some hope for a new direction and more transparency now that Obama is at the table.

But so far, he has seen few concrete signs the voices of average citizens won’t continue to be drowned out by those of big business. Since 2005, the “closed-door” leaders’ meetings have yielded harmonized regulations that have weakened Canada’s standards for civil liberties, labour and environmental protection.

“Drop the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Let it die in Guadalajara and commit to renegotiating NAFTA because we don’t see it as being as beneficial to the majority of North Americans as it has been for large corporations,” he said.

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