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FOCAL Views: Setting the bilateral table

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s official visit to Canada from May 26 to 28 is a unique and much needed opportunity to renew dialogue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and put the spotlight on bilateral ties. It is high time for the two leaders to dispel public misperception that the relationship is depreciating by showcasing the depth of linkages.

Both countries see eye to eye on a host of North American priority areas. Energy and the environment are a case in point and should make it to the top of the visit’s agenda. As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still makes the headlines, it is likely that its impacts for North American energy security will be discussed. The U.S. decision to pause the review and issuance of new licences for offshore drilling could boost ongoing discussions on the need to develop alternative and other more traditional sources of energy, including nuclear power. A more forward discussion could also explore co-operation on research in renewable energy and, given the inter-connection of the automobile industry in North America, tie it to the development of hybrid cars. All of these considerations could feed into the policy dialogue in preparation for the June G20 meeting hosted by Canada and the conference on climate change to take place in Mexico at the end of 2010.

The growth in bilateral economic linkages has reached a plateau despite some enormous potential remaining; Calderón and Harper could revive this agenda. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to impressive Canada-Mexico trade growth; yet the economic relationship could be enhanced further. Even in the absence of progress at the North American level, there are immediate possibilities to harmonize financial services, strengthen co-operation on research and development, promote investments, expand infrastructure, and develop regional value chains and economic clusters. Recent developments in aerospace —now the fastest growing industry in Mexico— is an object lesson on the bilateral benefits of gaining access to the right combination of factors such as availability of skilled labour, access to destination markets, science and technology, and incentives in order to create value chains and enhance competitiveness.

For some time, Canada and Mexico have been discussing co-operation in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that ranks high in the foreign policy priorities of both countries. Successful bilateral experiences in trade and investment or in governance can serve as the basis for co-operation in the region. Calderón and Harper could explore co-ordinating their efforts to reverse the current trend of missed opportunities. For instance, in Haiti, Canada has co-operated successfully with Brazil but has largely disregarded Mexico’s contribution. In turn, Mexico has failed to advocate for Canadian participation in the newly-created regional economic forum of Latin American countries, the Arc of the Pacific.

The bilateral relationship is too important and well-equipped not to be able to transcend disagreements and show progress in the many areas that will be addressed by the two leaders: trade and investment, security, energy and environment and flows of people. Their meeting and the attention it will generate should also serve to energize other actors that play an equal if not more important role in the relationship such as the private sector or provincial and state governments.

More importantly, we hope that this visit will set the table for the design of a new joint action plan outlining a longer term vision of the Canada-Mexico relationship.blue square

This new section reflects our institutional position on current issues in the Americas. It presents collaborative opinion articles originating from staff, board members, non-resident fellows or colleagues at sister institutions.

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