OTTAWA — Canada will lift its controversial visa requirement for Mexican visitors before the end of the year, while Mexico has agreed to end long-standing restrictions on Canadian beef imports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
Although both changes are still months away, Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto expressed satisfaction that the two main irritants in their bilateral relationship would be removed, paving the way for deeper co-operation.
“This move will make it easier for our Mexican friends to visit Canada while growing our local economies and strengthening our communities,” Trudeau told a news conference on Parliament Hill, Pena Nieto standing alongside.
Ending Mexican restrictions on Canadian beef, a lingering side effect of long-standing fears over mad-cow disease, “will support Canadian farmers and Canadian families,” he added.
The visa requirement will be lifted by Dec. 1, while the beef ban ends in October.
The previous Conservative government imposed visas in 2009 to stop thousands of asylum claims being made by ineligible Mexican citizens — a controversial move that has stood as the major irritant between the two countries ever since.
The Opposition Conservatives maintained Tuesday the visa should not be lifted until its impact can be properly assessed. But the visiting Mexican president was clearly happy to see its demise.
“Since 2009, this barrier has been set, but today thanks to a great political will, we are overcoming such a barrier,” Pena Nieto said in Spanish.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in a statement that Trudeau was making “a political decision that puts the security of Canadians at risk” by lifting the visa.
“The decision to lift the visa appears to be a completely political quid pro quo, rather than a decision based on evidence and Canada’s national interest.”
The Tories have said the asylum rate for Mexican nationals fell below one per cent over the last four years, down from 25 per cent just before the visa requirement was put in place in 2008. The Liberals promised during last year’s election campaign that the visa would be lifted, but the process has been fraught with delays.
The two countries also agreed to work together to advance the interests of indigenous people in both countries, in particular to help women gain access to education and foster innovation and entrepreneurship, Trudeau said.
“The president and I also discussed the need to uphold human rights, advance democracy, and the rule of law, and ensure respect for diversity, as well as the ways in which we can work together to ensure these important goals.”
He said the two countries “share values, goals and ambitions,” and aspire to “take action in ways that will make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Pena Nieto was on Day 2 of a three-day visit to Canada which culminates in the North American Leaders’ Summit, taking place Wednesday at Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada with Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Along with a variety of courtesy calls and photo-op events, the Mexican president was scheduled to attend a youth event later Tuesday before a state dinner hosted by Gov. Gen. David Johnston at Rideau Hall.
Earlier Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told a forum on innovation that Wednesday’s summit takes place just as similar agendas _ transitioning away from fossil fuels and racing towards energy innovation _ are seizing governments around the world.
Carr called it “an absolutely important moment as the history of the world begins to adjust to these very important changes.”
“Remarkably, as we talk to each other and as we travel internationally, the agenda of the world is remarkably similar,” he said. “And that is that we are all in a transition phase where we are reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and increasing our investments in renewable sources of energy, and in innovation.”
Carr also said last week’s referendum in the European Union, with Great Britain voting to exit, sets a stark contrast with the North American Leaders Summit. He said the world is looking to Canada, the United States and Mexico for leadership.
A White House adviser said Monday that the three leaders will focus on a North American-wide commitment to cut methane emissions and release what the adviser says will be a comprehensive North American climate, clean energy and environment partnership.
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.