Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 7 News List

North American leaders to meet for two-day summit

ECONOMIC CONCERNS Bush, Harper and Calderon will focus on unsexy issues such as trade, immigration and security cooperation during their talks in Canada

AP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush joins Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon today in hopes of expanding cooperation among their countries, which enjoy the largest trading partnership in the world.

The two-day North American Leaders' Summit in Montebello, Quebec, appears to lack a signature issue, except perhaps a new US push to halt Mexico's drug wars.

Instead, the broad theme is economic prosperity, built around several topics: border security, competitiveness with India and China, product safety and energy solutions. Underlying those points are technical but important matters, such as coordinating border-crossing procedures and commercial standards.

"It's not necessarily sexy stuff, but it's essential to our security. It has to be done," said Roger Noriega, former US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

"And it just so happens that Mexico and Canada have renewed themselves with the election of two right-of-center leaders who see the world a lot like Bush does," he said.

The setting will a massive red-cedar chateau on the banks of the Ottawa River. Some nettlesome issues await the leaders.

Bush promised to deliver an overhaul of US-Mexico immigration policy, and now he will be seeing Calderon for the first time since that effort collapsed in Congress. Calderon has made clear he is after more from the US than hundreds of kilometers of fencing to keep the countries divided.

Harper is frustrated over a US law that tightened passport rules for Canadians visiting the US, although Bush has little influence over the matter.

The leaders probably will discuss how best to counter the message of Venezuela's fiery president, Hugo Chavez, who is leading a leftward shift in Latin America.

Each man has a strategic interest in promoting democracy in the Western Hemisphere, an area of emphasis for Bush before he leaves office in January 2009.

"What's really important is that they continue to reflect the significance of North American integration," said Charles Doran of John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "The fact that there are post 9/11 problems, but they aren't going to undermine trade and investment."

Doran foresees no dominating issue at the summit.

"That's a good thing. There's not one thing that's going to preoccupy them," he said.

The meeting comes as the US is poised to offer a major aid plan to Mexico to fight drug trafficking and violence. Bush may announce the proposal during the summit if the details are completed in time.

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