The North American Leaders’ Summit—nicknamed the Three Amigos Summit, because why not?—takes place on Wednesday at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Besides causing some serious traffic snarls in the downtown core of the nation’s capital, the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico will get together to hammer out some key and common issues.
There have been nine iterations of these meetings, in locations rotating between the three countries, since 2005. Some have been friendly, some testy. Here’s a look at the basics, and what is likely to be covered this year.
Who’s invited, and what’s the status of their leadership?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 44, is the new kid on the block in both years and experience, having just been elected in October. American President Barack Obama, 54, is the senior statesman, nearing the end of his second term and his eighth year in office. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, 49, was elected in 2012 to a six-year term (there are no repeat terms for Mexican presidents).
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What are the underlying relationships here?
The 2016 edition promises to be amigo-like indeed—a back-slapping reset following terse relations between the American and Mexican leaders and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in recent years.
Harper cancelled the 2015 summit amid mounting tension with the U.S. over the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama ultimately rejected. At the 2014 summit in Toluca, Mexico (where Peña Nieto grew up), Obama publicly pushed Harper on taking seriously the threat of climate change and working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since Trudeau took office, owing to his closer alignment with Obama on a host of policy issues and a series of amiable—even jocular—public moments from Trudeau’s state visit to Washington in March, the punch line has been that of a “bromance” between the two.
Peña Nieto, too, had his differences with Harper—most fractious among them a visa requirement for Mexican visitors to Canada, which the Conservative government introduced in 2009 in response to growing numbers of refugee claims from that country. In contrast, Trudeau’s bilateral visit with Peña Nieto ahead of Obama’s arrival looked downright chummy, with the two attending a dinner banquet and embarking on a morning run together. At the APEC summit in the Philippines back in November, Trudeau and Peña Nieto attracted attention of, shall we say, a less substantive nature when they were pitted against each other under the hashtag #APEChotties.
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What events are on the schedule?
Trudeau welcomed Peña Nieto to Canada on Monday evening with a dinner at Casa Loma in Toronto. On Tuesday, he and Peña Nieto held a bilateral meeting, followed by a Q&A with students at the Canadian Museum of Nature, and a state dinner hosted by Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall in the evening.
Obama will touch down Wednesday morning and be greeted at the airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, then he and Peña Nieto will meet up with Trudeau at the National Gallery. There will be a bilateral meeting between Obama and Peña Nieto first, followed by a session with all three men, “an official family photo” and a working lunch. The three leaders will give a joint press conference to discuss the outcome of the summit, after which Peña Nieto will depart for the airport.
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Late Wednesday afternoon, Obama will speak in the House of Commons; the last time a U.S. president addressed Parliament was Bill Clinton in 1995. After Obama and Trudeau take a stroll through the Library of Parliament and down the Hall of Honour, the day is a wrap.
What will they discuss?
The Prime Minister’s office said the tête-à-tête-à-tête will “focus on creating jobs, strengthening North American communities, and building a clean growth economy. The leaders will also discuss the important steps they will be taking collectively to create a more integrated, sustainable, and globally-competitive North American economy.”
Here are a few specific issues important to these three countries:
Visas: The visa requirement for Mexicans visiting Canada was a major sore point for Peña Nieto—he had vowed not to visit again until it was revoked—and Trudeau’s government had pledged to repeal it multiple times through the election campaign and since. Following Trudeau’s bilateral meeting on Tuesday, the government announced the visa requirement would be gone as of Dec. 1, 2016. “Lifting the visa requirement will deepen the ties between Canada and Mexico and will increase the flow of travellers, ideas, and business between both countries,” the PMO said in a statement.
Trade: On Tuesday, Peña Nieto, in turn, agreed to lift Mexican restrictions on Canadian beef imports—a hangover from the 2003 outbreak of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
But more broadly, promoting continent-wide trade cooperation was expected to be a focus, particularly against the backdrop of last week’s shocking Brexit vote and loud, ongoing protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign. The three leaders are predicted to come out with strong statements in favour of free trade and the prosperity that can come of it, as the EU and worldwide markets roil over the ramifications of Britain pulling out of the EU.
Ahead of the summit, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce urged the leaders to focus on improving transport infrastructure. “Whether they discuss furthering their goals of creating jobs or talk about building a clean growth economy for North America, improved trade infrastructure must play a key role in reaching those objectives,” Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the organization said in a statement. “When trucks are idling on a highway because of a sinkhole or planes are queuing to take off because there’s a lack of usable runways, that’s costing business money and uselessly pumping CO2 into our atmosphere.” The Liberal government has pledged to pour $125-billion into infrastructure, but it has prioritized social, transit and green infrastructure rather than elements such as roads, airports, waterways and rail.
Environment: During Trudeau’s state visit to Washington in March, he and Obama jointly committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. The agreement was hailed as a solid step by environmental groups, because methane—emitted from natural gas sources, pipelines and processing facilities—is vastly more damaging in terms of climate change than carbon dioxide.
It’s expected that at the Three Amigos Summit, Mexico will co-sign on that pledge to cut methane, and all three leaders will announce a commitment to reaching 50 per cent clean energy across the continent by 2025. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico plan to emerge from the trilateral talks with “a comprehensive North American climate, clean energy and environment partnership” stocked with concrete measures for working together, a senior White House advisor told reporters before the meeting. “We find ourselves now in a moment where the alignment in terms of policy goals and focus on clean energy between our three countries is stronger than it has been in decades,” Brian Deese said. In announcing the visa agreement with Mexico, Trudeau also talked up cooperation between the countries to promote clean job creation.
A look back at past North American leaders’ summits:
Left to right: Mexican President Vicente Fox, U.S. President George W. Bush, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin walk together to a press conference at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, March 23, 2005. The three leaders spoke about preventing security threats and promoting North American economic competitiveness.