U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on November 18 for the first North American summit in five years. On day one, the three world leaders presented a harmonious front despite the need for major concerns to be hashed out over the next few days. The border crisis, trade, climate change, and issues with Biden’s “Buy American” agenda are on the menu. Will the neighbors work things out with Biden, or will the summit only heighten the tension?
Biden shared his confidence “the three amigos” will work things out as long as they “just take the time to speak to one another.” Trudeau and Lopez Obrador each met with Vice President Kamala Harris and President Biden separately before amicably meeting all as a group. The conversation stayed respectful and general, but points of contention were obvious.
“Biden’s America” Issues
Two major disputes the Canadian and Mexican government leaders are bringing to the table are Biden’s EV tax credits and the “Buy American” agenda. Included in the massive $2 trillion spending bill are tax credits for American-made electric vehicles. A part of Biden’s climate change strategy is to invest in American EV production and infrastructure and offer consumers tax incentives to purchase EVs made at U.S. plants. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said these credits are right at the line of violating the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (UMCA).
According to some experts, the provisions could in fact undermine the USMCA and cut out Mexican and Canadian companies from contracts worth billions of dollars. Kristen Hopewell, Canada Research Chair in Global Policy at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, is confident the provisions will not help the U.S.’s economy or long-term interests. The North American supply chain, which is currently suffering, is vital to the competition between Chinese and U.S. manufacturing in global markets.
More specifically, the issue with the American EV tax credits and the U.S. auto industry is that Canada and Mexico’s auto industries are intertwined with ours. According to Hopewell, “we should be trying to strengthen North American supply chains, not disrupting and weakening them through things like Buy American provisions.”
Whether President Biden will budge on his details of the infrastructure and spending bills that are the foundation for his initiatives is doubtful. The White House holds a different view than Freeland and Hopewell and “doesn’t view it that way,” according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Mexico has long been criticized for their environmental policies. Lopez Obrador skipped out of the Glasgow climate conference, and his domestic policies show he is not overly alarmed about climate change as President Biden is. U.S. climate activists have complained the Mexican president has made the renewable energy sector a struggle, doing very little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon, whilst pouring resources into his country’s oil industry.
The other two heads of state are expected to overlook Mexico’s stance on climate to reach center points on other issues. For example, Prime Minister Trudeau is likely to press Biden over the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline that runs through Michigan to Canada carrying oil and gas.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been clashing with U.S. Canadian officials, urging that the pipeline be closed due to concerns that a section is leaking into the Great Lakes. Shutting down the pipeline would cut off more than half of the country’s fuel supply and irreparably damage the U.S. economy, according to Kristen Hopewell.
Arguably the biggest issue at hand between the United States and Mexico, however, is the physical border between them. Whether the president admits it or not, the border has been and will continue to be an issue. The Biden administration’s continuation of Trump’s Title 42 policy, for example, has brought some heat to the discussion.
Title 42 permits border agents to expel asylum-seeking migrants back to Mexico. The Migrant Protection Protocols policy is also controversial for the Biden administration. It requires migrants to stay in Mexico at the border until they have an immigration hearing. The program had been stopped, but it is set to start back up following a court order.
Before the summit, Mexico’s Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier labeled some of Biden’s border policies as “incomprehensible” and “protectionist.” The summit provides the three leaders with an opportunity to address the root causes of the crisis and figure out why so many migrants abandon their homes and head for the border expecting to make it across into the United States to be accepted and taken care of.
Mexican officials have shared their frustrations with the United States’ reliance on Mexico to do more to curb illegal immigration. Lopez Obrador briefly shared his standpoint in a news conference on the first day of the summit, stating that restrictive immigration policies do not make much sense when the demand for migrant labor continues to grow. He wants research into the labor demand and market to drive regional immigration policies and decisions.
~ Read more from Keelin Ferris.