MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to downplay their frustrations with each other over immigration and trade as they met for the upcoming annual North American Leaders Summit.
The leaders offered a united front on Tuesday despite tensions straining their relationship, even as Biden has made repairing alliances a cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda.
Tensions were front and center when Biden and López Obrador met on Monday, with the Mexican president complaining about “abandonment” and “contempt” for Latin America.
But as they wrapped up the summit Tuesday in Mexico City at a joint news conference, the leaders offered an upbeat outlook.
“We are true partners, the three of us,” Biden said, adding that he did “like real” to each other. “We share a common vision for the future, based on common values.”
Lopez Obrador, for his part, thanked Biden for not building “Even one meter of wall,” A not-so-subtle dig at Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. The warmth during their joint press conference was in stark contrast to the more difficult exchange the day before.
Still, Lopez Obrador spurred Biden “insist” Congress regulates undocumented Mexican immigrants who work in industries where American employers struggle mightily to find enough workers.
The tripartite convention takes place most years, although there was a hiatus while Trump was president. It is often called the “The Summit of the Three Amigos”, Reference to the deep diplomatic and economic ties between the countries.
However, the leaders have found themselves at odds, especially as they struggle to deal with the influx of migrants and crack down on smugglers who profit by persuading people to make the dangerous journey to the United States.
In addition, Canada and the US accuse López Obrador of violating a free trade agreement by favoring Mexico’s state-owned electric company over power plants built by foreign and private investors. Meanwhile, Trudeau and López Obrador are concerned about Biden’s efforts to increase domestic production, which Concerns that US neighbors could be left behind.
In a one-on-one meeting with Biden, Trudeau emphasized the benefits of free trade and warned against the Buy America policy promoted by the US administration, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. Almost 80 percent of Canada’s exports go to the US, so avoiding protectionism remains Canada’s top priority.
The main points from the summit revolve around better relations between the three countries and a common goal of a stronger North America in energy and in particular semiconductors, climate and a commitment to reduce methane emissions, an agreement to manage large waves of immigrants arriving in the country. region and a more cohesive regional strategy to address future pandemic-related health threats.
In their talks on Monday, López Obrador challenged Biden to improve life across the region, telling him that “You hold the key in your hand.”
“This is the moment for us to decide to undo this abandonment, this disdain and this forgetting of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Lopez Obrador said.
Biden responded by pointing to the billions of dollars the United States spends in foreign aid around the world.
At the start of the Biden-Trudeau meeting on Tuesday, the leaders spoke familiarly and optimistically. Trudeau called the US president “Joe” And Biden joked with Trudeau — after the Canadian leader made a statement to reporters in English and French — that he should have paid more attention in his college French classes.
Biden and Trudeau also discussed their countries’ efforts to support Ukraine nearly 11 months after the Russian invasion. Canada announced Tuesday that it will purchase a National Advanced Surface-to-Air System, or NASAMS, to donate to Ukraine. The medium-range ground air defense system, which protects against drone, missile and aircraft attacks, costs approximately $406 million and brings Canada’s contribution to Ukraine to more than $1 billion since the beginning of the war.
The White House said in a statement that the leaders also discussed “The generational opportunity to strengthen supply chains for critical minerals, electric vehicles and semiconductors.” The US administration also announced that Biden will make his first visit to Canada as president in March.
“There are many reasons to be optimistic, especially for those of us in our own countries,” Trudeau said. “But it will require a lot of work, something that neither you nor I nor most of our citizens have ever feared.”
Biden and López Obrador have not been on particularly good terms in the past two years. The Mexican leader did not hide his admiration for Trump, and last year he skipped the Los Angeles Summit of the Americas, because Biden did not invite the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
But despite the tension, there was cooperation. The US and Mexico also reached an agreement on a significant change in immigration policy, which Biden announced last week.
Under the plan, the U.S. will send 30,000 immigrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela back across the border from among those who entered the U.S. illegally. Immigrants coming from these four countries are not easily returned to their countries of origin for various reasons.
In addition, 30,000 people a month from those four countries who receive sponsors, background checks and an airline flight to the US will be able to work legally in the country for two years.
The number of immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border has risen dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops in the year ending Sept. 30, the first time the number reached 2 million.
López Obrador spoke at length about Mexico’s efforts to control the flow of fentanyl into the United States, the synthetic opioid that has become a scourge for many American communities. He noted that his government had given the military control of seaports to help ban previous chemicals coming from Asia.
“We’re fighting fentanyl, these chemicals, and we’re doing it because we care. No one is a stranger to us.” he said. “It’s really important for us to be able to help with what’s happening in the United States, with the deaths from fentanyl. But also as we talked about today, it’s not just a problem for the United States, because if we don’t confront this problem, this scourge, we’re going to suffer from it too. So we have to to act in a coordinated manner.”
Canada is being pushed by the US and other allies to lead an international mission to Haiti to help resolve the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henri and the country’s Council of Ministers sent an urgent appeal on October 7, calling “Immediate deployment of a special armed force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the crisis caused in part by the “Criminal actions of armed gangs”. But more than three months later, neither country has stepped forward.
Trudeau called the situation Tuesday “heartbreaking.” Both he and Biden said they would work with the UN Security Council to help the Caribbean nation, but also expressed caution about direct intervention.
“We need to make sure that the solutions are driven by the people of Haiti themselves,” Trudeau said.