The top deals between the US, Mexico and Canada lean towards symbolism, not substance

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Presidents Biden, from left, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet at the North American leadership summit in Mexico City on January 10, 2023. (Andrew Harnik/The Bharat Express News)

President Biden, Mexican counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a series of new pledges on Tuesday to show regional cooperation on trade, migration and energy.

However, the commitments turned out to be more symbolic than substantive.

At the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, the three leaders agreed to host a meeting of government and industry officials to discuss how to produce more semiconductors on the continent. They pledged to reduce methane emissions from the solid waste and wastewater sector by at least 15% by 2030 from 2020 levels. And they pledged to devise a plan to install electric vehicle chargers along their international borders.

The main agreement between the countries, in which Mexico agreed to take in up to 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who have been rejected at the US border, was announced just days before the summit began.

A White House fact sheet circulated ahead of the three-way meeting contained few details about how the three nations planned to implement the new actions.

In a pompous ceremony at Mexico City’s National Palace, the leaders and their spouses attempted to show unity as they embraced and posed for photos. But the two-day talks instead showed that the trilateral relationship continues to be hampered by trade and energy disputes as the three leaders prioritize their domestic political agendas over regional cooperation.

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Disputes between the countries over trade and energy are serious and protracted.

The US and Canada have accused López Obrador of violating the three countries’ joint trade agreement by pursuing policies that favor Mexico’s state-owned oil company and the national electricity company. They have also complained that the Mexican president has not embraced their climate goals. López Obrador has reactivated coal plants, shut down renewable energy projects, spent billions building a state-owned oil refinery and passed legislation that would require Mexico’s electric utility to purchase more power from state-run plants, which are largely fueled by crude oil and coal.

Meanwhile, Mexico and Canada have accused the US of strict interpretation of the pact’s auto trade rules, making it more difficult for cars produced in those two countries to be considered tax-free in the US. The Mexico-Canada agreement is expected to make a decision on the dispute on Thursday. Biden has further confused the two neighboring leaders by pushing the “Buy American” policy and emphasizing domestic production.

Regional pressure to address record migration also came to public attention during Biden’s meeting with López Obrador, who accused the US of harboring a “contempt for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“It’s been two days full of symbolism and gestures of friendship and unity, but huge disagreements over policy,” said Mariana Campero, former general manager of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and host of the Center for Strategic and International Studies podcast ” Mexico Matters.”

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Amid rising tensions, the leaders tried to bring forward areas of cooperation. At a press conference after the meeting, Biden said the leaders’ priority was to preserve North America as the “most competitive, prosperous and resilient” economic region in the world.

“We are true partners, the three of us,” Biden said after a two-hour meeting with his colleagues. “There can be no more question — none — in today’s interconnected world: we cannot shut ourselves off from shared problems.”

López Obrador hailed Biden as “the first president of the United States in a very long time who has built less than a foot of a wall.”

“We appreciate that, even if the conservatives don’t like it,” he added.

During their one-on-one meeting, Biden and Trudeau expressed concern about the riots in Brazil and talked about shared goals on climate, Haiti and Ukraine. Biden said there is “unlimited economic potential” when their nations work together.

Ahead of the summit, Biden revealed a major shift in his immigration policy as his administration struggles to cope with a record wave of migrants illegally crossing the southern US border. Under the new rules, which expand the use of a Trump-era policy that allows border agents to immediately deport migrants, Mexico has agreed to take in 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. López Obrador signaled Monday that he was open to accepting more than 30,000 migrants a month.

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Biden acknowledged the “pressure” the influx of migrants has put on communities in Mexico and the United States.

“We are working together to meet this challenge in a way that upholds the laws of our country and protects the human rights of migrants in desperate circumstances,” the president said.

Leaders agreed to share “best practices” to help migrants find legal avenues and access the asylum process through a new virtual platform.

The progress of the economic agreements between the three countries is also far from certain. Any efforts to boost regional semiconductor manufacturing and bring other industries back to North America will depend on Mexico realigning its energy policies with those of the US and Canada, said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States. United States.

The three countries also announced plans to coordinate a strategy to tackle arms and drug trafficking. US authorities would like to see Mexico do more to target clandestine drug laboratories and restrict the chemicals used to manufacture the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Mexico has long called on Washington to curb the flow of guns across the border as it grapples with an increase in gun homicides.

Law enforcement cooperation has been a point of contention since the 2020 arrest of retired general Salvador Cienfuegos, Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, at Los Angeles International Airport. The US dropped the charges after López Obrador threatened to refuse security cooperation.

Mexico appeared to have renewed cooperation on drug trafficking last week, when authorities recaptured Ovidio Guzmán, a son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Times staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell and Kate Linthicum in Mexico City contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.