Three Amigos say relations 'strong' amid rising protectionism, anti-immigrant sentiment

The leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico put forward a united front against growing concerns over the rise of protectionism and anti-immigrant sentiment at home and abroad at the North American Leaders' Summit.

Orlando mass shooting, Istanbul terror attack also on the North American leaders' agenda

U.S. President Barack Obama, accompanied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Neito, speaks during their trilateral news conference for the North America Leaders' Summit at the National Gallery of Canada, Wednesday, in Ottawa. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

The leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico put forward a united front against growing concerns over the rise of protectionism and anti-immigrant sentiment at home and abroad as they concluded their North American Leaders Summit.

"The conversations were friendly, but also frank, and I'm reassured by the progress we have been able to make today," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a joint press conference in Ottawa.

"Relationships between the citizens of our three nations have always been strong, even when our governments haven't always seen eye-to-eye."

Trudeau said he had friendly but "frank" talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and Enrique Pena Nieto, as they agreed to align their respective climate and energy policies and work on resolving border issues at the so-called Three Amigos gathering.

"Today we turned that resolve into action, with the negotiation of an ambitious and enduring North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership," Trudeau said at a joint press conference Wednesday.

"This partnership will see our countries stand side-by-side as we work toward the common goal of a North America that is competitive, that encourages clean growth, and that protects our shared environment now, and for generations to come."

Trudeau said there were other issues on the agenda, such as the worst mass shooting in Orlando, Fl., earlier this month.

"One of the first items we discussed was our common respect for diversity, and our firm support for LGBTQ2 rights," Trudeau said, adding that the three leaders were "unanimous" in their belief that North America has a responsibility to lead on the issue.

In his own comments, Obama condemned the terror attacks Tuesday at Turkey's main international airport.

The leaders each addressed the anti-trade rhetoric that has been a central theme to both the U.S. presidential primary race and the referendum campaign in Britain over that country's decision to leave the EU.

"We have an integrated economy already, the question is under what terms are we going to shape that economy," Obama told reporters.

"Us trying to abandon the field and pull up the drawbridge is going to be bad for us," Obama added.

Pena Nieto spoke about the importance of working as a trading block and used the example of how the three countries came together to help protect the Monarch butterfly. He noted the butterfly's threatened nesting ground in Mexico has increased almost 10-fold over a single year and said that success was symbolic of the North American relationship. 

"The North American Leader's Summit bears witness that isolated national efforts are insufficient. If we want favourable results for the benefit of our societies it is better to work together as a region," Pena Nieto said

Obama also cautioned against drawing analogies between what happened in the U.K. with what is happening between Mexico, Canada and the U.S., or what all three are trying to do with the TPP.

"It's important to point out that those who argued about leaving the European Union are the same folks, who the very next day, are insisting 'don't worry, we're still going to have access to the single market,'" he said. "So, apparently, their argument was not against trade generally, they just didn't want any obligations to go with the access to the free market."

Although none of the three leaders spoke his name, controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has threatened to tear up the NAFTA trade deal and build a wall along America's southern border, was a constant theme to the press conference.

"Somebody...who has never shown any regard for workers, has never fought on behalf of social justice issues or making sure that poor kids are getting a decent shot in life, or have health care —  in fact have worked against economic opportunity for workers and ordinary people — they don't suddenly become a populist because they say something controversial to win votes, that's not the measure of populism, that's nativism, or xenophobia or worse, or it's just cynicism," Obama said.

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Agreement for the environment

The agreements reached by the Three Amigos were outlined in a statement issued by the White House even before Wednesday's meetings were underway.

"In recognition of our close ties and shared vision, we commit today to an ambitious and enduring North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership that sets us firmly on the path to a more sustainable future."

The three leaders agreed to move towards a 50 per cent clean power generation across North America by 2025, including renewable energy, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage and increased energy efficiency.

The climate accord pledges to cut methane emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025.

The three leaders also agreed to:

  • Expand the scope and eligibility of programs like NEXUS and Mexico's Viajero Confiable to speed pre-approved travellers across borders.
  • ​Provide businesses with a single online portal at customs.
  • Update the NAFTA rules of origin for a variety of products.
  • Launch a 90-day pilot program by the end of the year to target foreign fugitives with known or suspected ties to North America.
  • Give the UN Refugee Agency $10 million US combined to help with the largest displacement of migrants fleeing wars in countries like Syria and Iraq.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May welcomed the joint commitment on climate change and clean energy but called on the Trudeau government to increase its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Canada's GHG reduction target for 2030 is out of step with the U.S. and with the pledges in today's announcement. It is long since time that the Trudeau administration replace the old Harper target," she said in a written statement.

Environmental organizations offered tempered praise for the agreement. Environmental Defence said the new targets will help North America show greater leadership on climate change.

Greenpeace said it applauded the three leaders but remained concerned that "false solutions like nuclear (power) and carbon capture" were included in the plan.

The Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, said the agreement demonstrated that "when working together, North America can forge important progress on global issues."

Countering anti-protectionist rhetoric

Obama held a bilateral meeting with Mexico's president before the three North American leaders sat down for their trilateral discussions.

"We had the opportunity to discuss the continuing strength of our business, commercial, trade and people-to-people ties," Obama said.

"The United States is not just a friend and neighbour of Mexico, but the very character of the United States is shaped by Mexican Americans who have shared our culture, our politics, our business."

"All too often we're hearing rhetoric that ignores the enormous contributions that have been made by Mexican Americans and the enormous strengths we draw from the relationship," Obama said in an apparent reference to Donald Trump's controversial comments during his run to be the Republican nominee for president in this fall's U.S. election.

Pena Nieto also offered a rebuke against rising American and British protectionist forces.

"The world is teaching us lessons," Pena Nieto said in Spanish at the end of his meeting with Obama.

"We need to be very clear in terms of describing the benefits of being an integrated region. Jobs are created, companies are incorporated, trade is free and more development can reach people due to regional integration. Isolationism is not a route towards progress; integration is."

Handshakes and hugs

Obama arrived at the Ottawa airport Wednesday morning where he was received on the tarmac by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and his wife, Vicki, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton, and Ottawa mayor Jim Watson.

Trudeau greeted Obama with a handshake and a warm hug at the National Gallery of Canada. "Good to see you," the president said as the pair shook hands.

Before getting down to meetings, Trudeau and Obama joined Pena Nieto in the gallery, where an exhibit celebrating the work of Rufino Tamayo, a Mexican modern artist, is currently on display.

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Before Wednesday's meetings, Trudeau and Pena Nieto had cleared away some long-standing trade and travel irritants: Canada will lift its controversial visa requirement for Mexican visitors before the end of the year while Mexico will end restrictions on Canadian beef imports.

The two leaders touted the relationship between their countries as a model of political and economic co-operation, in sharp contrast to the growing strains of protectionism and isolation sweeping the United States and Britain — a message that's likely to intensify today when Obama joins Trudeau and Pena Nieto for a day of summitry.

After the summit press conference, Trudeau held a bilateral meeting with Obama, who capped his day-long visit to the Canadian capital with an address to Parliament.

With files from The Canadian Press