Update June 28, 2016: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has announced visa restrictions for Mexican citizens will be lifted beginning Dec. 1.
A year ago, only a few people thought that the parochial, anti-immigrant and isolationist sentiments in the United Kingdom would actually lead to Brexit. But left to fester, the threat became real.
Now in North America the sudden rise of Donald Trump has brought about a similarly dangerous trend — our very own infamous "El Guapo" is threatening the good people of Santa Poco.
It's a job for The Three Amigos.
The presidents of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will meet in Ottawa this week for the North American Leaders’ Summit, better known as the Three Amigos Summit.
The yearly sit-downs, which started in 2009 to promote greater economic and security cooperation under the umbrella of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have been mostly symbolic until now. But in the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, and Trump's increasingly loud plans to wall off the U.S. from its southern neighbor, this year's Amigos summit has an added sense of urgency.
“In light of nativism, demagoguery, lies and disinformation in the U.S. election, and especially now with Brexit, the summit must start generating a narrative that our North American association has a profound impact on the wellbeing, prosperity and security of our societies in the 21st century,” Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s former Ambassador to the U.S., told me.
The talks this Wednesday will center on a range of issues, from competitiveness, security and climate change to education, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and other bilateral issues such as the Keystone Pipeline.
But the issue on Mexicans' minds—and perhaps the one agenda item that could lead to tangible results—is the possibility of Canada lifting visa requirements for Mexican travelers.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to use the summit as an opportunity to push Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make good on his promise to lift visa requirements for Mexican citizens—something that reportedly could happen as soon as Dec. 1, according to Canadian daily The Globe and Mail.
Lifting the visas would be a win for regional integration, but also for President Peña Nieto, who needs all the good headlines he can get.
The visa requirements were imposed on Mexico in 2009 by the conservative government of Stephen Harper, who argued the measure was needed to crack down on Mexicans trying to game Canada's lax refugee and asylum policies.
It was seen like a slap in the face to Mexican officials who had been actively pushing for further integration with Canada. The relationship went sour.
Now Trudeau is bringing a new approach to government, and helping to rekindle Canada's friendship with Mexico.
Resolving the Mexican visa controversy at this week's summit would be a bold move by Canada in the wake of Brexit, showing the world that North America will continue to set its own course.
But it won't be that easy. Difficult negotiations are still likely to take place.
Athanasios Hristoulas, an expert on North American integration and security issues, says Trudeau will first need assurances from Peña Nieto to prevent Mexicans from “abusing Canada’s system.”
But Trudeau is unlikely to push too hard. This is his moment to shine and spread his "sunny ways” as his first time playing host to a major international event.
Chris Wilson, a North American competitiveness expert for the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, believes Trudeau's ability to put the visa controversy to rest would send a strong message about integration between Mexico and Canada. But when it comes to the U.S.' commitment to regional integration, the Trump cloud looms large.
“No matter what they agree to, there’s a certain degree of uncertainty because of the U.S. election,” Wilson said. “Regional cooperation could continue or receive a shock depending on who wins the election.”
But he says the Three Amigos meeting is still a great opportunity to address the challenges that Brexit and Donald Trump represent.
“The pressure is on to make the case for regional integration. This time they shouldn't be timid,” Wilson said, adding that the three presidents should "use this context to go out and make a bold statement."
"They need to come out and say how those who are on the losing end of trade deals are being helped, and how Canada and Mexico are keeping the U.S. safe from terrorist attacks," Wilson stressed. “They need to articulate the benefits.”