Despite tensions between them, President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador delivered a unified front in public statements on Jan. 10 to mark the conclusion of the two-day North American Leaders Summit in Mexico City.
Typically called the “three amigos summit” because of the close diplomatic and economic ties between the countries, the trilateral gathering is held most years. There was a hiatus during President Donald Trump’s tenure.
The three leaders met as their countries are striving to mend tensions between each other.
The United States continues to struggle with the flood of illegal immigrants entering the country through the southern border.
Lopez Obrador’s focus on strengthening Mexico’s state oil company and public power utility has violated a free trade pact and prevented private and foreign investment in semiconductor manufacturing, U.S. officials say.
Mexico’s energy policy places billions of dollars in U.S. investments at risk, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Canada has joined the complaint.
Trudeau and Lopez Obrador have expressed concerns about Biden’s measures to increase domestic manufacturing, claiming that their countries could get left behind.
The United States is alarmed that Lopez Obrador has the plan to prevent the importing of genetically, modified corn. Mexico has agreed to delay the ban until 2025.
Even with the tensions, the three leaders presented a unified front at the post-summit press conference.
“We’re true partners the three of us,” Biden said. “We share a common vision for the future, grounded on common values.
“The United States has made historic bipartisan investments in infrastructure and innovation that are already beginning to deliver concrete benefits to the American people. And I would argue, they reap benefits for … entire North America,” Biden added.
“We deepened our cooperation with our closest friends and allies. In today’s interconnected world, we cannot wall ourselves off from shared problems. We are stronger and better when we work together.”
Biden, Lopez Obrador, and Trudeau agreed that priorities for the summit included developing stronger connections among the nations and transforming North America into a clean energy leader.
They discussed climate change and a pledge to reduce methane emissions, reached an agreement on a plan to better manage the large waves of migrants entering the region, and formed a cohesive strategy to address future pandemics.
The nations will also work together to coordinate semiconductor supply chain mapping efforts and identify “complementary investment opportunities,” the statement said.
Semiconductor chips are used for multiple purposes, including automotive manufacturing, telecommunication, and defense. The industry has been dominated by Asia for years, and disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic created problems in North American supply chains.
Semiconductor companies constructing new manufacturing facilities in the United States would like to have parts suppliers in Mexico, according to U.S. officials.
Biden met with Trudeau before the summit on Jan. 10.
Trudeau talked to Biden about free trade and expressed his disapproval of Buy America policies that the Biden administration has promoted.
Around 80 percent of Canada’s exports are sent to the United States.
The US, Canada, and Mexico have become “closely tied” over the past three decades because of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), Trudeau said during his post-summit remarks.
“This trade agreement helped our economies grow and created millions of good employment and the trade amongst our borders, and it drew investors from the world over,” Trudeau said, noting that “combined we’re home to half a billion people” and that “our combined GDP is larger than that of the European Union.”
“The world today is facing a lot of uncertainty. With the rise in authoritarian leaders causing global instability and the high cost of putting stress on families at home, it’s important that we come together as leaders and as friends to look at ways to make our economies more resilient,” Trudeau added.
“Today, we discussed how we can build reliable value chains on this continent for everything from critical minerals to electric vehicles to semiconductors. This is good for workers, good for consumers, and good for communities across our countries.”
Frustrations were evident on Jan. 9 when Biden and Lopez Obrador met.
The leaders shook hands and smiled for the cameras before entering a room at the Palacio National to begin the discussion.
Lopez Obrador implored Biden to help improve life in his country and criticized the United States for not doing more.
“I hold that this is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is opposed to the policy of the ‘good neighborhood’ of the titan of freedom and liberty, FDR—Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” Lopez Obrador said.
“President Biden, you hold the key in your hand to open and to substantially improve the relationship among all the countries of the American continent,” he added.
The Mexican leader also complained that too many products are manufactured in Asia, compared with North America.
“We ask ourselves, couldn’t we produce in America what we consume?” Lopez Obrador said. “Of course.”
Biden defended America’s response by saying that “just in the last 15 years, we’ve spent billions of dollars in the hemisphere—tens of billions of dollars in the hemisphere. We have to continue to support and build democratic institutions in the hemisphere.”
Biden added that “the United States provides more foreign aid than every other country, just about combined, in the world … to not just the hemisphere but around the world.”
“Unfortunately, our responsibility just doesn’t end in the Western Hemisphere. It’s in central Europe. It’s in Asia. It’s in the Middle East. It’s in Africa. It’s in southwest Asia,” Biden continued.
“I wish we could just have one focus—only one focus,” Biden added. “We have multiple foci. And so that’s what we have to work on. And I’m confident we can do a great deal more in tandem with one another.”
In the news conference after the trilateral meeting, Biden and Lopez Obrador showcased a warmer and more optimistic exchange.
Lopez Obrador praised Biden for “not building even one meter of wall,” a reference to former President Donald Trump, a man for whom Obrador expressed admiration.
Obrador later urged Biden to “insist” that Congress regularize undocumented Mexican immigrants who typically work in professions where American companies are struggling to find employees.
Migration Policy Shift
Last week, the United States and Mexico agreed on a significant shift in migration policy. Under the initiative, the United States will send 30,000 illegal immigrants each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, back across the border.
In return, 30,000 people every month from those four countries who obtain sponsors, background checks, and an airline flight to the United States will be permitted to work legally in the country for two years.
“As was mentioned, by all of us in one way or another, this has been the greatest migration in human history around the world, as well as in this hemisphere,” Biden said. “We’re gonna continue our efforts to address the root causes of migration to help people stay in their home countries. I’ve asked … Congress for $4 billion to provide for that.
“On my way here, I stopped in El Paso, Texas, to see the situation with my own eyes,” Biden added. “We’re working together to address this challenge in a way that upholds our nation’s laws and protects the human rights of migrants.”
The leaders also addressed the fentanyl crisis.
“We’re also working together to take on the scourge of human smuggling, and even illegal drug trafficking,” Biden said. “In just the last six months, our joint patrols in Mexico have resulted in the arrest of more than 7,000 human smugglers. We’ve seen more than 20,000 pounds of deadly fentanyl at the border.
“Today, we’ve discussed how all three of us can continue to deepen and strengthen our shared efforts to cut off the flow of illegal fentanyl, including by tackling the precursor chemicals used in synthetic drugs as we go out to the laboratories where they’re made, and the stash houses where they’re stored,” Biden added.
Lopez Obrador talked in detail about Mexico’s efforts to reduce the flow of fentanyl into the United States.
“We are battling fentanyl, these chemicals, and we are doing it because we care. No human is foreign to us,” Lopez Obrador said.
“It really matters to us to be able to help with what is happening in the United States, the deaths from fentanyl. But also as we discussed today, it is not only an issue for the United States, because if we don’t confront this problem, this scourge, we are going to suffer it, too. So we have to act in a coordinated way.”
Energy and climate change were also priority topics at the summit.
“We also talked about meeting our commitments to make North America a clean energy powerhouse,” Biden said. “And I believe that’s within our grasp.
“That means working together to move zero-emissions vehicles to build charging stations for electric vehicles that are across our international borders.
“That means exploring shared markets for clean hydrogen. And it means working together to meet our ambitious commitments under the Paris Agreement, including tackling methane and black carbon,” Biden added.