OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will join his North American counterparts in Mexico next month for a continental summit, amid broader doubts about the relevance of the so-called Three Amigos meetings.
Harper’s office confirmed Monday that he will travel to Toluca, Mexico, on Feb. 19, where President Enrique Pena Nieto will host him and U.S. President Barack Obama.
It will be the first meeting of the trio since a brief gathering almost two years ago. That Washington meeting came in April 2012 and marked the first time leaders of the three countries had met since 2009.
Next month’s talks will be Pena Nieto’s first trilateral continental summit, and will it comes at a time of tension between Canada and Mexico.
The Mexicans are pushing for the lifting of Canadian travel visa requirements on visiting Mexicans, and Harper has said he would like to see that lifted.
The Mexican ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez, has previously told The Canadian Press that the ongoing irritant — Canada imposed the visa on Mexican travellers in 2009 to curb what it said was a rise in bogus asylum claims — might colour future planned travel by Harper to Mexico this year.
Harper’s spokesman would not comment on the visa issue, and said the economy will be central to the agenda for the talks.
“Prime Minister Harper will be focused on strengthening our trade, energy and security relationship with our partners in the United States and Mexico,” Jason MacDonald said in an email.
“Our top priority remains creating jobs and driving economic growth through free trade.”
Harper’s office had few other details, and had yet to formally announce the trip as of Monday afternoon.
In Washington, where the White House announced the event on Monday, indications were that it would not be a lengthy affair.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would be travelling to Mexico “on Feb. 19″ but he refused to say whether the president would be staying the night.
“We’ll have more details for you later,” Carney said.
“At the summit, the president looks forward to discussing with Mexican President Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Harper a range of issues important to the daily lives of all of North America’s people, including economic competitiveness, entrepreneurship, trade and investment, and citizen security.”
Next month’s meeting will be the seventh such North American leaders’ summit, but a leading foreign affairs analyst said the relevance and the importance of the process has been greatly diminished in recent years.
Fen Hampson, director of the global security program at the Waterloo, Ont., Centre for International Governance Innovation, said greater focus needs to be placed on revitalizing the North American Free Trade Agreement “to meet the competition from China and the tigers of Asia.”
“Summits of the three amigos are little more than photo-ops and this one promises to deliver little more than that,” Hampson said, placing the blame firmly on Obama’s shoulders.
“Washington has not only shown precious little leadership in recent years but actually gone out of its way to make life difficult for its NAFTA partners, whether the issue is border management, beef, trucking, energy or welcoming Mexico and Canada to the TPP talks.
“Without revitalization and a new vision for North America, the three amigos will go their separate ways into the sunset.”