Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor

What Did the 'Three Amigos' Summit Accomplish?

Editor's note: In the Featured Q&A of the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor, Andrés Rozental and Arturo Sarukhan share their thoughts on what was achieved by U.S. President Obama, Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Harper at the annual North American Leaders' Summit.

Andrés Rozental
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Latin America Initiative

Expectations for the Toluca encounter—also dubbed the Tres Amigos Summit—were quite high in Mexico because there was no annual summit in 2013 and because President Peña Nieto has given trilateralism and North American competitiveness a high priority during his administration. Unfortunately, the very short time allocated to the trip by President Obama and the distractions around the crises in Ukraine and Venezuela made this summit appear in the eyes of the media as unproductive, disappointing and a lost opportunity for the region to reignite enthusiasm for the North American agenda. While it's true that neither Mexico nor Canada were successful in getting Obama to make strong commitments on specific issues such as immigration reform, Keystone XL or any of the other irritants that cloud the bilateral and trilateral relationships, the summit did deliver a series of interesting new commitments that can partially re-energize the North American idea.

A North American transportation plan was agreed to that should make the movement of goods and people more efficient, including through new harmonized customs procedures and joining the three countries' existing trusted traveler programs into a single North American program; Canada-U.S. and Mexico-U.S. border liaison mechanisms, which until now have been exclusively bilateral, will now have Mexican and Canadian observer participation, respectively. This same modality will be added to the bilateral regulatory harmonization mechanisms already in place, there was agreement on significantly expanding scholarships and academic exchanges among all three countries, and energy ministers will be meeting in the near future to design a North American energy strategy for renewables and energy efficiency. Prior to the trilateral summit, Primer Minister Harper had an official bilateral visit which was much less productive as far as Mexico was concerned because of his refusal to positively address President Peña Nieto's request that Canada remove the visa requirement it imposed on Mexicans several years ago and which has seriously harmed the bilateral relationship.

Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan
Distinguished Affiliate, Foreign Policy and Metropolitan Programs

It's generally a mistake to pin success or failure of North American Leaders' Summits (NALS) on traction—or lack of thereof—in the three sets of bilateral agendas. Much as Mexico would like to see progress on immigration reform in the United States, Canada on Keystone with the United States, the United States on Rio Grande water issues with Mexico, or Mexico with visas for travel to Canada, the NALS must be measured in terms of the deepening and widening of our trilateral architecture and agenda. Even though the Toluca Summit seems to have nudged the conversation in this direction, it apparently failed in pouring Drano down the pipes of three vexing challenges: the underlying Canadian conviction that trilateralism detracts from its priority of strengthening bilateral relations with the United States; the on-going  conundrum-—rooted in the grassroots politics with labor—that the U.S. government has had with  unreservedly embracing NAFTA and North America as a paradigm of success; and the failure of the three  nations—and of consecutive governments since 2011—to jointly and strategically address a new generation  of issues that were not anticipated by NAFTA. This is why the Trans- Pacific Partnership and energy, two issues front and center in this past summit are so promising for North America's future. The former can  modernize NAFTA and improve our joint production and logistics platforms, enhancing our global  competitiveness. The latter promises to deliver one of the most profound geostrategic and economic realignments of the post-Cold War world: a common North American energy independence, efficiency and security template. At the end of the day, a pivot to North America by the three North American nations is  what is truly needed.

These along with other expert responses were initially published in the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor.

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