MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet Tuesday for a series of talks on migration, trade and climate change as the three leaders attempt to resolve tensions that have divided the continent.
The tripartite meeting is held most of the years, although there was a break when Donald Trump was the President of the United States. It is often referred to as the “three friends summit”, referring to the deep diplomatic and economic ties between the countries.
However, the leaders remained at odds, especially as they struggled to deal with the influx of migrants and crack down on smugglers who cash in on persuading people to make the dangerous trip to the United States.
In addition, Canada and the US accuse López Obrador of violating the free trade pact by favoring Mexico’s state-owned utility company over power plants built by foreign and private investors. Meanwhile, Trudeau and Lopez Obrador are worried about Biden’s domestic manufacturing efforts, raising fears that US neighbors could be left behind.
The summit’s key takeaways relate to improved ties between the three countries and the common goal of strengthening North America in energy and semiconductors in particular, climate and methane emission reduction commitments, agreements to manage large waves of migrants arriving in the region, and a more coherent regional strategy to combat future health threats associated with the pandemic.
The centerpiece of the summit will be hours of talks with all three leaders, but Biden will kick off Tuesday with a meeting with Trudeau. It is unlikely to be as controversial as his meeting with Lopez Obrador on Monday.
During that meeting, the Mexican leader urged Biden to improve life in the region, telling him “you hold the key in your hands.”
“The moment has come when we must decide to end this rejection, this neglect and this neglect in relation to Latin America and the Caribbean,” said López Obrador.
Biden responded by pointing to the billions of dollars the United States spends on foreign aid around the world, saying “unfortunately, our responsibility does not end in the Western Hemisphere.”
It was a noticeably abrupt exchange after the two leaders smiled, hugged and shook hands in front of the cameras.
Biden and Lopez Obrador have not been on particularly good terms over the past two years. The Mexican leader made no secret of his admiration for Trump, and last year he missed the American summit in Los Angeles because Biden did not invite the authoritarian regimes of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
However, there were attempts to unfreeze relations. Biden chose to fly into the new Felipe Angeles International Airport, a prized project by the Mexican president, though it has generated controversy.
The airport, which is expected to cost $4.1 billion when completed, is more than an hour north of the city center, has few flights and, until recently, was constantly short of potable water. However, it is one of the key projects Lopez Obrador is rushing to complete before his term expires next year.
The US and Mexico have also reached an agreement on a major immigration policy change that Biden announced last week.
Under the plan, the US will send back 30,000 migrants a month across the border from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela from among those who entered the US illegally. Migrants from these four countries are not easily repatriated for a variety of reasons.
In addition, 30,000 people per month from these four countries who receive sponsorships, background checks and air travel to the US will be able to legally work in the country for two years.
On Monday, ahead of the summit, López Obrador said he would consider accepting more migrants than previously announced.
“We don’t want to prejudge things, but that’s part of what we’ll be talking about at the summit,” Lopez Obrador said. “We support such measures to give people a choice, an alternative,” he said, adding that “the number can be increased.”
Mexico is likely to require an increase in the number of those who receive work permits in the United States in order to accept more expelled migrants.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, warned that nothing had yet been decided.
“What we need is to see how the program announced last week works in practice, what if this program needs to be adjusted, and then we can talk about the next steps,” he said.
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has skyrocketed in Biden’s first two years in office. During the year ending September 30, there were over 2.38 million stops, the first time that the number exceeded 2 million.
Biden, after his first trip to Mexico as president, is expected to travel to Canada, though this has yet to be scheduled.
A senior Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Canada is working with the Americans in the near future.
Associated Press contributors Mark Stevenson and Maria Verza in Mexico City; Rob Gillis in Toronto; and Chris Megerian and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.