Go to Mexico, Mr. Trudeau

Photo Source: www.cknw.com

Excerpt from: iPolitics |

By: Iliana Perez, Jack Hughes and Ryan Clarke |

October 21, 2015

Among the early decisions facing any new prime minister is settling on a destination for the first official trip outside Canada. It’s a decision rich with symbolic, substantive and strategic importance.  Not only does a new leader’s choice of destination send a clear signal about the government’s priorities, it’s often the first opportunity Canadians have to see their new leader interact with a foreign counterpart on the global stage.

As Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau weighs this important decision, he has several options — Washington, London, Paris, Beijing and New Delhi among them — but the one he should consider most seriously is Mexico City.  The bilateral relationship between Canada and Mexico has developed significantly since the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but there is still a vast unrealized potential there to be harnessed and leveraged.

During the election campaign, the Liberal party platform committed a Trudeau government to renewing Canada’s partnership with Mexico and the United States on a broad range of issues of continental importance.  Specifically, the Liberals pledged to develop a North American clean energy and environment agreement, reduce the remaining barriers impeding trade and establish a cabinet committee to oversee the trilateral relationship.  These are laudable pursuits in support of an important goal — strengthening what is already the most coveted economic partnership in the world. We should, however, give some thought to how that goal could best be accomplished.

As the United States enters the 2016 presidential election cycle, it will become increasingly difficult for our government to secure unconditional commitments from either the White House or Congressional leadership. In recent weeks we have seen how American politics has influenced U.S. foreign policy in a number of key areas, perhaps most notably in relation to the ratification of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Achieving meaningful progress on major files is inherently problematic when dealing with a U.S. president in the final year of his final term. While we must never ignore the United States, there’s more fertile ground further south.

Mexico is a country on the verge of explosive economic growth. Not only is it blessed with an enviable resource and labour mix, it has introduced a series of pacto por México reforms that create opportunities in a vast range of sectors.  There is also an emerging consensus among leading financial experts that Mexico’s economy will be greater than Canada’s by no later than 2020, and will then grow to exceed those of Russia, Germany and Japan by 2050.  Canada is among a handful of countries ideally positioned to benefit from that growth, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, our geographic proximity and our shared interests and common values.

When Canada and Mexico work together, as they recently did in the context of the TPP with respect to proposed changes to the rules of origin for auto imports, they have the capacity to influence outcomes.

By making Mexico City his first foreign visit, and making Mexico a top priority, Prime Minister Trudeau can solidify and strengthen a crucial relationship at a critical time. And, he would not be going empty handed.  Among his election commitments, Mr. Trudeau pledged to immediately lift the travel visa requirements for Mexican citizens coming to Canada. Honouring that promise on Mexican soil would represent a momentous gesture.  The travel visa requirement has weakened an otherwise healthy bilateral relationship, and few could credibly argue that it did not affect the personal relationship between Prime Minister Harper and President Peña Nieto.

Prime Minister Trudeau and President Nieto could also use an early visit to reaffirm their shared commitment to the Canada-Mexico Joint Action Plan, which contains concrete measures to strengthen our bilateral relationship.  Forging a strong partnership with Mexico before travelling to the U.S. could help Canada on several fronts, including the country-of-origin labelling file, where the WTO may soon authorize the imposition of retaliatory tariffs.  With the G20 meetings in late November, Prime Minister Trudeau will shortly have the opportunity to meet many of his foreign colleagues — but by going to Mexico first he can score an easy and early foreign policy win.


Iliana Perez is with Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Mexico City. Jack Hughes and Ryan Clarke are with Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Ottawa.