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Thinking through the Canada-Mexico relationship

Olga Abizaid

For more than a year, our relationship with Mexico has been questioned in influential circles within Canada. This country is being blamed for the increased security measures that the United States is implementing along its border with Canada. As evidence of this, Canada has underlined the problems confronting Mexico in terms of public security in the context of the war on drugs, particularly close to the U.S.-Mexico border. The recommendation: drawing a line through the Río Bravo to separate Mexico from the area we are starting to call North America. If these comments had begun to cause concern in Mexico, the Canadian government’s decision to impose visa requirements on Mexicans last summer has been interpreted by some as irrefutable proof of the decline in the strategic value placed on relations with Mexico.

The reality is much more complex. However, these arguments allow us to examine our bilateral relationship with Mexico and, in doing so, to assess why the relationship is important for Canada.

Until now the importance of the Canada-Mexico relationship has been defined by the interrelations that exist between regional dynamics in North America on the one hand, and the bilateral relationship on the other hand. The exchanges that have taken place in the economic, political and security spheres have always been looked at in light of this dichotomy.

To think about our relationship with Mexico is to think of a commercial partnership. At the moment, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is one of Canada’s main trading partners —preceded only by the U.S., China, Japan and the U.K.— and a key factor in the global production strategies of various corporations, including Canadian ones. And it will become even more so as transportation costs increase. Therefore, it would be a serious error in judgment to think that trade between Canada and the United States only takes place at the 49th parallel and to make recommendations based on this premise. For many Canadian companies, access to the American market is also determined by dynamics at the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Thinking about the relationship between Canada and Mexico also requires recognizing the changes that have taken place in Mexico, which have facilitated a rapprochement of the two countries. These domestic changes have also laid the groundwork for a strong bilateral political agenda intended to strengthen institutions across a wide range of areas including, among others, electoral processes, federalism, access to information, modernization of the public service and human rights. The most recent inclusion to the Canada-Mexico agenda in this area has been security, dealing with matters as diverse as the strengthening of the judicial system, the training and professionalization of police forces at the federal level, and co-operation to confront organized crime. Today, Mexico is a political partner with whom we share a similar world vision. Exchanges at the political level, and on the subject of security, are framed within regional initiatives, be it through bilateral initiatives including co-operation frameworks with the U.S. or in the context of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). Furthermore, it is expected that some of the initiatives that are being carried out in the area of security will benefit from the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program launched by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Guadalajara last summer.

Thinking about the bilateral relationship and how this relationship fits in North America is also a prerequisite for understanding that there exists a level of interdependence in this region that is greater than we realize; this requires adequate and co-ordinated responses. Proof that such co-ordination is possible where the will exists was found in the joint management of the crisis caused by the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

Finally, if we are truly willing to consider the potential of our relationship with Mexico, it is notable that many of the exchanges that are being carried out within the bilateral agenda could contribute to bringing about an idea that has long been on the drawing board: co-operation between Canada and Mexico in Latin America.

Can we, therefore, think of our relationship with Mexico in another way?blue square

Olga Abizaid is the Director of FOCAL’s Research Forum on North America. She can be contacted at oabizaid@focal.ca.

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