Border security, the drug war and arms smuggling will join trade and the recession on the agenda of US President Barack Obama’s first “three amigos” summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada this weekend in Mexico.
With Mexican gangs dominating the drug trade over the US border and up into Canada, and violence — often with US-made weapons — spreading north, security is in the news in all three countries, as much, if not more, than trade, economic recession and climate change.
“What affects our bordering neighbors has the potential to affect us all, so we want to be certain that we have the tightest, best possible, cooperation,” Obama’s national security adviser, James Jones, told reporters before the meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, today and tomorrow.
Obama has made relations with his neighbors a priority during his first months in office. Since becoming president in January, he has met both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon several times.
Mexican drug gangs are killing rivals in record numbers, despite Calderon’s three-year army assault on the cartels. The death rate this year is about a third higher than last year, and police in the US and as far north as Vancouver have blamed violence on the Mexican traffickers.
“Violence, particularly in Mexico, has increased exponentially. There are some signs that it is heading north of the border, not just in the United States, but also in Canada,” said Shannon O’Neil, a Latin American expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Obama promised full support to Calderon during a visit in April, but Mexico said that anti-drug equipment and training were taking too long to arrive and hoped the summit would move things ahead.
Border security is a concern for all three leaders, with illegal immigration a volatile political issue in the US, home to millions of undocumented Mexicans.
Calderon and Harper may also address a simmering dispute over Canada’s decision last month to require that Mexican visitors obtain visas.
Canada is the US’ biggest trading partner and Mexico its third biggest, and both countries have expressed concerns about what they see as a tilt toward protectionism as Washington seeks to overcome the recession.
US business groups have been pressing the White House to resolve a cross-border trucking dispute with Mexico they say threatens to eliminate thousands of US jobs.
Mexico imposed retaliatory tariffs of US$2.4 billion in US goods in March after Obama signed a bill canceling a program allowing Mexican trucks to operate beyond the US border zone.
“We would like to see a final closure and a final solution to the issue of trucking,” said a Mexican government official said, adding that his government would like a deal by year’s end.
Canada, which sends 75 percent of its exports to the US, has decried provisions in the US stimulus package requiring, for example, that steel used in public works projects under the plan be made in the US.
“Expect some general words publicly from the leaders on these issues, about the continued need for open borders and a robust trading relationship within North America,” said Eric Farnsworth, a vice president at the Council of the Americas.
“Expect some tougher words behind closed doors, because both Canada and Mexico need a strong, open US for their own recovery and they will surely impress this idea on President Obama,” he said.
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