AAMER MADHANI, ROB GILLIS and MARIA VERZA
WASHINGTON (AP) – Resurrecting a trilateral summit in North America after a five-year hiatus, President Joe Biden on Thursday joined the leaders of Canada and Mexico to proclaim that their countries can work together and prove that “democracies can do good,” even if they seem to be at odds on key issues.
But when Biden spoke of their mutual respect alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, the three leaders also faced new challenges in trade, immigration, climate change and other issues.
“We can solve all problems if we just take the time to talk to each other, working together,” said Biden, who hosted North American neighbors in an almost annual tradition a decade before President Donald Trump came. to the office.
It was a day of full-fledged diplomacy that required careful choreography as Trudeau and Lopez Obrador met separately with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris before meeting for a three-way talk in the East Room, which used a mix of English, French and French. Spanish.
The leaders issued a statement after the summit saying they agreed to work together to tackle migration, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, without specifying how they would resolve their differences.
As they emphasized the closeness of the alliance, points of tension were evident.
These include disagreements between Washington and Ottawa over proposed tax breaks that will benefit US electric vehicle makers; López Obrador’s frustration that the US is not going to issue more temporary work visas, even as American businesses complain they are suffering from a shortage of workers; and frustration for the US and Canada that Mexico is not accelerating to tackle climate change.
Biden met with Trudeau first, calling the US-Canadian relationship one of the easiest at the start of his presidency. Trudeau said his values are deeply in line with Biden’s, but there are differences.
When they sat down to negotiate, Biden confirmed their disagreement over proposed tax breaks for electric vehicles in his ambitious social services and climate law and noted that the law “hasn’t even been passed in the House of Representatives yet.”
A provision in Biden’s proposed spending plan would offer US consumers a $ 7,500 tax credit if they buy electric vehicles by 2026. Next year, only electric vehicle purchases made in the US will be eligible for the loan. The base loan would increase by $ 4,500 if the car was manufactured in a US plant that operates under a collective bargaining agreement between the unions.
“He does not recognize the level at which automotive production has been incredibly integrated between our two countries over the past 50 years,” Trudeau said after the meetings. “A car part can cross the border six or seven times before it finally rolls off the assembly line in a finished vehicle.”
Trudeau said the loan would pose serious problems for car manufacturing in Canada.
“Americans are well aware of Canada’s position on this issue and our concerns about it, as well as, frankly, the threats that it poses to more than 50 years of integrated automotive industry in our two countries, which has been largely confirmed in the free trade between Canada, USA and Mexico. agreement, new NAFTA, ”Trudeau said.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Christia Freeland on Wednesday called the incentive a clear violation of an updated trade agreement between the three countries aimed at protecting U.S. jobs and products made in North America.
The union regulation has also met with opposition from some non-union organizations and US legislators. Nonetheless, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden “is largely committed to the bill to provide well-paid unions.”
Trump had an icy relationship with Lopez Obrador’s predecessor, and he urged Enrique Peña Nieto never to publicly declare that Mexico would not pay for a wall on its border with the southern United States.
But Lopez Obrador appears to have reached an understanding with Trump on one issue: Mexico has slowed the flow of Central American migrants trying to reach the US border, and Trump has often seemed to turn a blind eye to virtually every aspect of the difficult relationship.
Lopez Obrador spoke kindly to Biden as they appeared in front of cameras on Thursday. The two leaders discussed Mexico’s relationship with the United States under Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt in front of portraits of both, which Biden displayed prominently in the Oval Office.
The Mexican president praised Biden for respecting his government, which he said was not always a given in the long history of the two countries, and for including funding in his expense account for rebuilding the immigration system. But he also cited his desire to see the US move quickly to temporary visas.
Lopez Obrador has repeatedly spoken of his interest in the US government expanding its work visa program so that more Mexicans and Central Americans can meet the demand for US labor. Temporary workers, in turn, could have access to the higher wages they seek in the United States. without becoming part of the stream of illegal immigration.
“Why not study the demand for labor and open up the flow of migration in an orderly manner?” – said Lopez Obrador.
At the end of the meetings, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard described the day as “very successful”, adding: “There is an ideological, political closeness and good chemistry between these three, and this will mark a new stage in relations.”
Ebrard said the US agreed to launch a Central American development program similar to that proposed by Mexico, but he did not elaborate on what the program would entail. Mexico has pushed the expansion of one of Lopez Obrador’s signature social programs, which pays farmers to plant trees on their land to ease the economic pressure of migration.
Thursday’s White House meetings marked the first trilateral meeting of North American leaders since Trudeau, Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto met in Ottawa in June 2016. The tradition of tripartite meetings began when George W. Bush hosted Mexican Vicente Fox and Canadian Paul Martin in 2005 at his Texas ranch.
Mexico’s priorities ahead of the summit were concrete gains in immigration and more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The US and Canada expressed disappointment that Lopez Obrador was unable to participate in global efforts to reduce air emissions. The Mexican president skipped this month’s UN climate summit in Glasgow and accused elite nations of displaying “hypocrisy” when it comes to protecting the environment.
Trudeau and Biden also discussed the future of the pipeline, which crosses part of the Great Lakes, and is the subject of growing tensions over whether it should be closed. Biden is involved in the Battle of Enbridge Line 5, a key segment of the pipeline network that transports Canadian oil across the US Midwest.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and Biden’s ally, has demanded that the 68-year line be closed because of the potential for a catastrophic rupture at a 4-mile (6.4 km) stretch in Mackinac Sound, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The Biden administration has not taken a stand, but is under increasing pressure to do so.
Canada last month cited a 1977 treaty that guarantees unhindered oil transit between the two countries.
Associated Press author Colleen Long of Washington contributed to this report. Gillis reported from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Verza reported from Mexico City.