Leaders from the U.S., Mexico and Canada hold their annual meeting this week in Toluca, Mexico. As usual, they will probably dish out a lot of talking points about mutual cooperation and keep the juicier issues close to the vest.
Here are a few of the topics they should be addressing, but probably won’t (publicly):
1. The Keystone Pipeline
Canada is still waiting on President Barack Obama to approve an extension of the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries oil from Canada’s Alberta province all the way to southern Texas.
A report by the State Department last week gave the project, which would run through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, an environmental green light, but the President still hasn’t acted.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper clearly isn’t happy with the situation, but don’t expect him to get ornery at the meeting.
“How much consultation do you need to do?” Harper told Bloomberg in mid-January, speaking about Obama’s slow movement. “It’s clearly another punt.”
2. Mexico’s Security Problems
The security situation isn’t on that list, at least not yet. Since taking office, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has bagged a couple of high-level cartel bosses, but that hasn’t been enough to stabilize drug-related violence.
Under his watch, dozens of self-defense groups have formed in the western states of Guerrero and Michoacan to counter drug trafficking organizations. Those organizations were also taxing local businesses and kidnapping civilians for ransom.
Some people see the self-defense groups as citizens taking care of things that the government hasn’t been able to handle itself.
But David Shirk, an associate professor at the University of San Diego, says there are also risks.
“[They] look disturbingly similar to the kind of groups we saw twenty or thirty years ago in Colombia,” he said Friday at a briefing organized by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.
Decades ago, paramilitaries rose up in Colombia, ostensibly to fight Marxist guerrillas, but were later implicated in human rights abuses and drug sales.
The Mexican government signed an agreement last month to recognize the self-defense groups as a legitimate security force, but that isn’t exactly a confidence-building move. The groups lack the training and oversight you would expect from a state-sanctioned police force.
“I think there’s a lot of concern on the ground right now, in Mexico, about where that’s going,” Shirk said.
3. Mexico-Canada Relations
Earlier this month, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suárez, summarized the cool air between the two countries, saying “the relationship has lost dynamism…it has become stagnant.”
In 2009, Canadian Prime Minister Harper required that Mexican visitors obtain visas when traveling to Canada, to combat a rise in refugee claims.
“This is literally damaging the image of Canada in a country that is very friendly to you,” Suarez said about the visa requirement in January. “It’s affecting business and tourism.”
Trade has also been an issue. Suárez recently said the U.S., Mexico and Canada need to establish economic cooperation that goes beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in effect since 1994.
He said there’s “an unfinished agenda” because NAFTA “did not correct the inequality between regions, the north, the south, skilled versus unskilled, large firms versus small and medium-sized firms.”
The moment may be right for Mexico to assert itself. The country has the 14th largest economy in the world, judging by gross domestic product. The Mexican government is also looking to open its oil fields to foreign investment, a move that could increase competition with Canada for foreign dollars.
The Takeaway: These issues probably won’t be part of the public dialogue at the summit, but leaders may make some progress behind the cameras.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.