The Three Amigos Summit held this week in the Mexican city of Toluca did not generate any major economic breakthroughs, nor did President Enrique Peña Nieto convince his Canadian counterpart, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to address a pesky visa requirement that Canada has for Mexican citizens.
Nevertheless, the Mexican leader and host can congratulate himself for a well-organized and incident-free high-level meeting which, at the very least, has generated slight momentum for relations between Mexico City and Ottawa.
A Mexico-Canada momentum?
Prime Minister Harper seemed particularly eager to make the best of histrip to Mexico. He arrived on Monday, February 17, and spent a total of three days in the host country.
Harper and Peña Nieto reportedly signed four cooperation agreements which included a new “Action Plan” for relations between Mexico and Canada for 2014-2016. The Action Plan is hailed as an important document as it identifies priorities so that the economies of both countries can be more competitive.
Other agreements deal with credits for exports as well as “greater access forMexican airlines to Canadian cities and vice versa.”
The two leaders also penned a declaration to promote bilateral relations. The statement highlights how bilateral trade has grown more than six times since NAFTA came into effect in 1994. It explains that trade betweenMexico and Canadasurpassed 31 billion dollars (USD) in 2012. Canada is the second biggest importer of Mexican goods and the fourth largest investor in Mexico.
The 3 Amigos meet
The summit itself took place in a picturesque location: the botanical gardens of Toluca. While Prime Minister Harper spent a couple of days in Mexico, President Obama arrived on the day of the summit to join his North American counterparts.
The three leaders met in private, but they also carried out public ceremonies, including a brief press conference at the conclusion of the summit(click herefor a video of the three leaders’ final remarks).
It should be stressed that the three leaders’ public remarks did not provide any new initiatives. In their final statements, the leaders declared their support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), clean energy partnerships, and also addressed the situations in Ukraine, Syria, and, briefly, Venezuela.
The 800 Pound Visa in the Room
As previously mentioned, one topic that was not publicly discussed in Toluca was immigration, in the broad sense of the word.
Mexico hopes that the U.S. government will reform its immigration program in order to allow the regulation of undocumented Mexicans that reside in the U.S. However, this process has been slow to occur and it is doubtful that a breakthrough will happen in Capitol Hill before the end of President Obama’s second term.
Meanwhile, Ottawa has been ambivalent in agreeing to a visa waiver for Mexicans traveling in Canada.
Harper has declared that Mexico meets the criteria to require its citizen a visa to enter Canada, and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
“We remain always ready to discuss those criteria, what Mexico could do to address some of those issues and also what possibilities exist between us to facilitate legitimate travel,” the Prime Minister stated.
Canada’s visa requirements for Mexicans wereimposed in 2009to combat an increase of fraudulent asylum seekers.
President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper discussed the visa issue during the summit and the Mexican leader praised the Canadian leader for being open to dialogue on this issue. To put it in a more straightforward way: an agreement over the visas has not been reached yet.
To be fair, there were some initiatives with the potential to simplify immigration and encourage the movement of individuals across borders.
In his concluding remarks, President Peña Nieto explained the educational initiatives to encourage U.S. students to study in Mexico and vice versa. One ambitious goal that was mentioned includes 100 thousand Mexican students traveling to the U.S. and 50 thousand Americans going to Mexico. Nevertheless, it’s unclear if there is a timeline for these proposals to be put in place.
Finally, President Obama highlighted that he is cutting the bureaucratic “red tape” to make it easier for American businesses to export and import from other countries. This will have the added benefit of making it easier for businesspeople and tourists to travel.
Ultimately the question comes down to how what was accomplished in the 2014 Three Amigos summit: No major agreement was reached (such as a new direction for the NAFTA bloc) other than the interest of the three leaders to support the TPP. With that said, the agreements between President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper may signal a new momentum for stronger relations between Mexico and Canada.
Ultimately, President Peña Nieto declared that he congratulated himself for having created a space for dialogue at Toluca. While that is true, Mexicans probably would have preferred a new visa agreement with Canada.