By James McCarten in Mexico City
U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Canada in March, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Tuesday as North America’s three leaders gathered for the official start of the trilateral summit known as the “Three Amigos.”
Word confirming the oft-delayed trip, normally one of the first orders of business of a new president, came just as Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador gathered at the National Palace in Mexico City to formally begin their three-way meeting.
While it may not make for the most earth-shattering foreign-policy headline, the upcoming visit provides a friendly frame for Canada-U.S. relations as the North American Leaders’ Summit gets underway in the Mexican capital.
More-substantive issues are on the agenda — and forward progress is in the offing, sources say, including on the cross-border dispute over the trusted-traveller program known as Nexus.
Stakeholders say they expect the summit to produce an agreement that will allow Canada’s Nexus enrolment centres to reopen, with interviews with U.S. border agents taking place at Canadian airport facilities that already provide preclearance services for travellers heading stateside.
Nexus applicants, who must be interviewed by both Canadian and U.S. authorities, would sit down with Customs and Border Protection officials for that portion of the process prior to travelling to the U.S., provided they are travelling imminently and leaving from an airport where customs preclearance is an option.
International airports in Canada that offer preclearance services include those in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg, as well as Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
Prior to the formalities at the National Palace, Biden and Trudeau sat down for a face-to-face meeting, briefly exchanging pleasantries and remarks for the gathered phalanx of cameras, which strained to hear the soft-spoken president.
The pair talked at the G20 meeting last year about the need for Canada and the U.S. to expand their partnership, Biden said.
“That’s something that we can do — I think your phrase was, ‘When we work together, we can achieve great things,'” he said. “What we should be doing, and we are doing, is demonstrating the unlimited economic potential that we have in North America.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that the U.S. would be pressing Canada to take a more direct role in backstopping security forces in Haiti, a theme Biden was quick to mention as well.
“We’re going to discuss how we can try to help stabilize Haiti, how we can deal with migration and at the same time bolster our national security,” the president said.
Trudeau didn’t specifically mention Haiti, but he did make the point that North America’s economic potential is limitless if it functions as a unit.
“We have a tremendous amount to contribute to the world in goods and services, but also in technologies and solutions that the world really needs,” Trudeau said.
“Our capacity to work together has brought us to date some extraordinary success, but at a time of disruption around the world with very real challenges, we can and must be doing even more.”
It’s the first formal bilateral for Biden and Trudeau — two-thirds of the so-called “Three Amigos” — since the Summit of the Americas in June.
Much like at last year’s gathering of hemispheric leaders, Biden’s agenda will be dominated by the migratory crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, making his meeting with Trudeau the prime minister’s best chance to press the president on issues of specific concern to Canada.
From a Canadian perspective, the summit’s overarching economic goal is to ensure Biden — a vocal and unapologetic champion of protectionist, pro-labour domestic policy — sees America’s neighbours as true partners and collaborators.
That was clear enough from the summit of business leaders from across the continent that got the Canadian portion of the proceedings started on Monday.
“Far too often, we’ve acted as either three independent countries or two bilateral relationships. In today’s world, that is going to leave us behind,” Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder told the gathering.
It’s time for leaders in all three countries to think more in terms of North America as a single, self-contained unit than as separate entities, Hyder said.
“How the world is taking shape is really strength in numbers and blocs. And yet, in North America, we haven’t really come to that conclusion ourselves.”
Trudeau acknowledged Monday how close the continent came in 2019 to losing NAFTA, the 25-year-old free-trade agreement replaced during the Donald Trump era with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which went into effect in 2020.
“We almost lost NAFTA,” Trudeau said, “talking amongst friends,” as he thanked the group for the various roles they played in securing the new deal, known in Canada as CUSMA.
“The Mexican government, and me and my government in Canada, worked very, very hard to try and convince the American administration at the time how important trade with friends, integrated supply chains, reliable partnerships and a continental approach to building opportunities for our citizens was.”
Be that as it may, the USMCA era has not been smooth sailing.
The U.S. argues that Canada’s supply-managed dairy market denies American producers fair access to customers north of the border. The U.S. also says Mexico is unfairly favouring domestic energy suppliers. And both Mexico and Canada say the U.S. isn’t playing fair when it comes to how it defines foreign content in its automotive supply chains.
Mexico is also under pressure to come to terms with the U.S. on López Obrador’s plan to ban imports of genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate, a decree that has angered American farmers.
A report released last week by the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas heralded what it called “a new era of trade disputes,” noting that 17 such disagreements have erupted in the USMCA era, compared with just 77 over the course of NAFTA’s lifetime — an average of just over three a year.
Then there’s Buy American, the long-standing, politically popular U.S. doctrine of preferring domestic suppliers over those of even the most neighbourly allies.
Canada may have averted catastrophe when Biden’s electric-vehicle tax credits were amended last year to include North American manufacturers, but the president still rarely misses a chance to tout made-in-America supply chains.
Canada often doesn’t want to be lumped in with Mexico when it comes to its relations with the U.S., said Scotty Greenwood, chief executive of the Canadian American Business Council.
“It wants to have its own unique relationship with the U.S., so we’ll see if Canada is going to embrace or resist the ‘North American idea,'” Greenwood said.
“Meaning, ‘Let’s view things as a bloc and as a region, and let’s take things on together.’ I hope it embraces it. But that would be different.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2023.