By Anita Powell and Jorge Agobian
The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico are meeting Thursday for their first trilateral summit in five years, to discuss longstanding issues such as climate change, migration, economic competitiveness, as well as newer challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House Thursday. The leaders will first have bilateral meetings with Biden before converging for the first North American Leaders’ Summit since 2016.
“It’s the culmination of 10 months of work to revitalize North America’s platform that is both critical to our domestic economic success, as well as a partnership that can play a critical role in resolving regional and global challenges,” White House deputy press secretary Chris Meagher said Wednesday.
Challenges include migration, Cuba, competition
However, the so-called “three amigos” also have rocky terrain to cover.
After taking office, Biden halted the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocol, known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, but Texas and Missouri successfully sued the federal government to have it restarted. That is likely to happen in coming weeks.
“The feeling of the United States that Mexico is not doing enough on security, I think will be a possible point of tension as well,” said Ryan Berg, a senior fellow in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Surely the leaders will discuss the Remain in Mexico program, the fact that Title 42, as well, is still on the books, the migratory flows, as well as how Mexico can help the United States in the Northern Triangle countries.”
Also, some of Washington’s economic and climate policies are likely to draw Canadian ire. Trudeau has said he intends to push back against Biden’s Buy American program, which Ottawa sees as protectionist.
“There’s no doubt that there are still issues in the U.S.-Canada bilateral relationship,” Berg said. “There’s supply chains, there’s the issue of the Keystone XL, of course, which the Biden administration canceled early on.”
Beyond the borders
The three are also likely to discuss issues outside of their borders, such as recent protests in Cuba and the U.S.-led economic blockade on the island, over which Biden and López Obrador disagree.
They are also likely to discuss what Biden has described as a “sham” election that saw longtime leader Daniel Ortega jail opponents and brutally repress dissent to take a fourth consecutive term in the central American nation of Nicaragua.
“I would assume that other critical issues across the hemisphere will be on the agenda as well,” said Jason Marczak, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. ”Very concerned about what was seen just recently in Nicaragua with Daniel Ortega … imprisoning political prisoners, leading to a sham vote in Nicaragua just recently. And so I think that there will be other regional topics that are on the agenda, which are important for U.S.-Mexico collaboration as well as Canada as well.”
But, he said, getting these three leaders in one space to hash out these critical issues together is key.
“It’s important to have on the agenda both issues in which there is agreement and also issues in which, on the surface, there might not be agreement,” he said. “But having a conversation — especially a private conversation — is the best way to at least be able to see each other’s perspectives and see if some common ground can be inked out.”