On February 19, U.S. President Barack Obama, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet in Toluca, Mexico. The meeting has the official title of the “North American Leaders Summit,” but it is more popularly known as the “Three Amigos” summit.
The last time the three leaders met was briefly in 2012 in Washington, and plenty has happened since then. Topics like marijuana legalization, security issues, the NSA scandal, the 20th anniversary of NAFTA and the future of North American trade are some of the topics that could, and should, be discussed at this meeting of amigos.
Which issues will be addressed will depend on the scheduled length of the summit itself. For the moment, it seems that this gathering, while friendly, will be brief.
During a January 13 press briefing, James Brady, the White House’s Press Secretary, did not confirm whether President Obama will spend the night in Mexico. He simply stated to the press, “What I have here is that he will be traveling to Toluca, Mexico on February 19. We’ll have more details for you later.”
On the other hand, the Canadian leader will arrive on February 17 for a two-day trip. The Canadian newspaper Globe & Mail muses that Harper is “looking to sign a second major trade deal before the next election.” In other words, there seems to be a strong incentive for Harper to leave Mexico with some kind of international agreement to showcase back home.
It should be noted, as the Canadian news agency CBC News explains, that the Mexican government may pressure Harper to lift “Canadian travel visa requirements on visiting Mexicans.” We will have to wait until February 19 to see if these restrictions are in fact lifted.
Finally, it will also be interesting to see if the NSA scandal will be addressed by the Mexican government, as the U.S. intelligence agency also spied on Mexican leaders. As recently as mid-January, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina Mora, declared that Washington has barely explained the NSA’s operations.
More trade more integration?
If nothing else, the upcoming Toluca summit will be an opportunity for the three leaders to give flattering speeches about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which celebrates its 20th anniversary this January 2014.
The agreement has been repeatedly praised by business communities and trade agencies alike. For example, the website of the U.S. Trade Representative highlights how “All member economies have grown significantly from 1993-2003: United States: 38% economic growth, Canada: 30.9% and Mexico: 30%.”
Of course, the data does not portray the full reality of what NAFTA does, like the exploitation of Mexican laborers that work in U.S. -owned factories: The Maquiladoras.
Some analysts have also critiqued the agreement as not having positive effects on the U.S.; a January op-ed in The Guardian argues that “the promised trade surpluses with Mexico turned out to be deficits, some hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, and there was downward pressure on US wages.” Moreover, there are still sensitive issues regarding commercial integration that have not been perfected, such as allowing Mexican trucks to cross the U.S. border.
All in all, it is expected that if the three leaders do discuss trade initiatives, an issue which will probably be brought up by Harper, some mention of NAFTA will be in order.
Mexico stands out
Finally, it is worth stressing that hosting the Three Amigos summit will be a very important event for the Mexican government. As for what this means for President Pena Nieto himself, this is a perfect way to begin 2014.
Pena Nieto came to power in 2012 and in 2013 he carried out several high-profile diplomatic meetings. Most memorably, in April of last year Pena Nieto traveled to China where he met with President Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader returned the favor in June and the two leaders signed the (stereotypically called) Tequila Agreement, in order to foment bilateral relations.
In May 2013, President Obama traveled to Mexico to meet with Pena Nieto, though in a May 7 commentary for VOXXI, I stressed that the U.S. leader’s trip to Mexico (and Costa Rica) ended without high-profile agreements. Finally, this past December, the Mexican leader made a memorable trip to Turkey.
Thanks to its economic development, in spite of ongoing internal violence, Mexico is regarded as a major player in Latin America and a growing global power. The country is a member of the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc of vibrant Latin American nations. While the Alliance’s goal is to foment commerce between its members, this could (and should) serve as a springboard for social initiatives, like visa waivers for citizens of the Alliance’s members.
Moreover, a new acronym of rising global powers has appeared: the MINT nations – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. Recent analyses and op-eds portray this grouping as the new power players – a December 2013 report in the BBC was titled “From BRIC to MINT.” To what extent MINT could become some kind of alliance or just an informal initiative remains to be seen, but it does exemplify that Mexico is having a growing international presence.
In other words, the Three Amigos will meet at a great time for Mexican foreign policy. A successful summit would include a trilateral resolution that is actually carried out.
Certainly, issues like marijuana legalization or international military-oriented policies cannot be decided immediately. Nevertheless, the focus of the Amigos summit will likely be trade and Mexico’s EPN could use this meeting to more aggressively promote his country’s international trade position by take a leading role in NAFTA for the next years.