Trudeau turns at­ten­tion to Mex­ico in midst of NAFTA ten­sions


MEX­ICO CITY — The Lib­eral govern­ment’s ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy as a mix of for­mal and pub­lic diplo­macy was on full dis­play Thurs­day as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ar­rived for his first state visit to Mex­ico.

The pomp and cir­cum­stance that greeted Trudeau at the air­port was fol­lowed by a som­bre wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at a mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing Mex­ico’s ef­forts to beat back an Amer­i­can in­va­sion in the 1850s — an apt im­age as both Canada and Mex­ico now con­tem­plate how to with­stand new U.S. strong-arm­ing ef­forts over trade.

While the on­go­ing rene­go­ti­a­tions of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment was the cen­tre­piece of Trudeau’s bi­lat­eral meet­ing Thurs­day with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto, the Cana­dian govern­ment is also in Mex­ico to play a longer game.

Pena Ni­eto’s term is nearly up in govern­ment and with Mex­ico one of the coun­tries on Trudeau’s pri­or­ity list for stronger re­la­tions, one goal of this visit is to forge new re­la­tion­ships and ce­ment Canada’s stand­ing in the eyes of Mex­i­cans as a trusted part­ner in all things, not just trade.

Hence, Thurs­day’s visit to a Red Cross dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre, where Trudeau and his wife So­phie Gre­goire Trudeau donned vol­un­teer vests and handed over boxes of baby goods, foods and house­hold sup­plies for earth­quake re­lief ef­forts. To the whir of a wall of cam­eras, they packed do­na­tion boxes, toured the cen­tre and shook hands with beam­ing vol­un­teers to the chants of “Canada.”

“I love Mex­ico,” said Trudeau, whose ar­rival in Mex­ico City fol­lowed a day of meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., fo­cused on res­cu­ing the ail­ing North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

All the fan­fare was surely a wel­come dis­trac­tion from NAFTA, which ex­perts and ob­servers alike say could well be on the verge of col­lapse — a pos­si­bil­ity Trudeau seemed to ac­knowl­edge Wed­nes­day af­ter meet­ing with the trade deal’s most prom­i­nent en­emy: U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Prior to sit­ting down with Trudeau, Trump said it would be fine if NAFTA was ter­mi­nated, although mem­bers of Con­gress ex­pressed hope ear­lier in the day it could be re­worked.

Sim­i­larly mixed feel­ings seem to ex­ist in Mex­ico, where Pena Ni­eto has pledged to de­fend the deal, but some of his se­nior lead­er­ship ap­pear to be lay­ing ground­work for it to fail.

The coun­try’s for­eign re­la­tions sec­re­tary said this week it would not be a big deal for Mex­ico to just walk away from the talks, and that Mex­ico won’t ac­cept “lim­ited, man­aged trade” — an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to de­mands for higher U.S. and re­gional con­tent rules on prod­ucts like auto parts.

Mean­while, a vet­eran Mex­i­can diplo­mat has ex­pressed fears about the pos­si­bil­ity that NAFTA could be ditched in favour of bi­lat­eral agree­ments, an is­sue raised by Trump as well.

“Some of us in Mex­ico think that on sev­eral oc­ca­sions our Cana­dian friends have come close to throw­ing us un­der the bus,” Ar­turo Sarukhan, the for­mer Mex­i­can am­bas­sador to the U.S., said at a NAFTA-re­lated event Wed­nes­day in D.C.

“How do we Mex­i­cans en­sure (our) Cana­dian friends stay fo­cused on a tri­lat­eral ap­proach?”

Trudeau was asked whether a bi­lat­eral deal with Mex­ico could be in the cards should the tri­lat­eral talks fail.

He said he knows there are other paths that could be pur­sued, and they’ll be fol­lowed if nec­es­sary. But for now, he re­mains op­ti­mistic.

“I con­tinue to be­lieve in NAFTA; I con­tinue to be­lieve that as a con­ti­nent, work­ing to­gether in com­ple­men­tary ways is bet­ter for our ci­ti­zens and bet­ter for eco­nomic growth, and al­lows us to com­pete on a stronger foot­ing with the global econ­omy,” Trudeau said.

“So say­ing, we are ready for any­thing and we will con­tinue to work dili­gently to pro­tect Cana­dian in­ter­ests, to stand up for jobs, and look for op­por­tu­ni­ties for Cana­dian busi­ness and ci­ti­zens of all of our friends and neighbour coun­tries to do well.”

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau, in Wash­ing­ton for meet­ings with G20 fi­nance min­is­ters and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, was con­fronted Thurs­day with sev­eral ques­tions about a pos­si­ble U.S. exit from NAFTA.

“There’s a path to be op­ti­mistic here and, you know, maybe he’ll come around,” Morneau said, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Trump. “I’m of the view that over the long term, be­cause trade has been so ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery­one, that we will get through pe­ri­ods of ques­tion.”


Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his wife So­phie Gre­goire Trudeau are ac­com­pa­nied by Mex­i­can For­eign Min­is­ter Luis Vide­garay, af­ter land­ing at the air­port in Mex­ico City, Thurs­day. This is Trudeau’s first of­fi­cial visit to Mex­ico.

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