WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged from a “Three Amigos” summit Monday pledging to work with his counterparts on joint efforts to boost economic growth and trade, fight organized drug crime and promote energy development.
And while he secured a public endorsement from U.S. President Barack Obama for Canada’s aspirations to join negotiations in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), there is still no guarantee the U.S. and others won’t demand stiff concessions from Harper.
Harper met with Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House on Monday. After the two-hour meeting, the leaders issued a joint written statement outlining future areas of co-operation, and met with reporters under sunny skies in the Rose Garden, just outside the Oval Office.
“Canada places the highest value on the friendship and partnership among our three countries,” said Harper. “We form one of the world’s largest free-trade zones, which has been of great benefit to all our nations.”
The prime minister also said he was pleased that Obama has once again “welcomed” Canada’s “interest” in joining talks for the TPP — a proposed free-trade zone that promises to be one of the world’s most important trade agreements.
The TPP is currently a nine-member Asia-Pacific free-trade proposal being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Canada, Japan and Mexico have all signalled they want in on the talks.
But Canada’s entry into the TPP is being blocked by some countries, and it’s believed the U.S. and New Zealand have had the most serious concerns.
The opponents say Canada should not join the negotiations until it first, as a precondition, promises to abandon the long-standing supply management system that protects fewer than 20,000 dairy and poultry farmers.
The system protects farmers behind tariffs, assigns them production quotas and forces Canadians to pay higher prices for products like milk, cheese, chicken and eggs.
Asked if Canada is prepared to give up its supply-management system in order to get a seat at the negotiating table, Harper did not answer directly but appeared to suggest he’s not ready to bow to those demands at the outset.
“Canada’s position on Trans-Pacific Partnership is the same as our position in any trade negotiation,” he said. “We expect to negotiate and debate all manner of issues, and we seek ambitious outcomes to free-trade agreements. In those negotiations, of course, you know, Canada will attempt to promote and to defend Canada’s interests, not just across the economy, but in individual sectors, as well.”
For his part, Obama said he’s “pleased” that Canada wants to join the TPP, adding that “consultations” are now underway among the nine nations currently involved in negotiations “on how new members can meet the high standards of this trade agreement.”
“Every country that’s participating is going to have to make some modifications,” said Obama.
“That’s inherent in the process, because each of our countries have their own idiosyncrasies, certain industries that have in the past been protected, certain practices that may be unique to that country, but end up creating disadvantages for businesses from other countries.”
Among the other major issues discussed at the summit was the dangers posed to all three countries by the drug cartels in Mexico and the growth of organized crime.
Calderon, whose country has been battling the drug trade, told reporters it is critical for North America to take action to stop the demand for drugs from Mexico, crack down on money laundering, and squeeze the cross-border shipment of weapons.
“Thinking that what happens in Mexico doesn’t have anything to do with the security of the citizens of this country or of any other citizen of North America is a mistake,” said Calderon.
“We have to understand that we are all tied to one another.”
In their joint statement, the three nations recognize that “all of our citizens are adversely affected by transnational organized crime.”
“We commit to direct our national efforts and deepen our co-operation against all facets of this common challenge based on the principles of shared responsibility, mutual trust, and respect. We intend to further share expertise and information and to co-operate in key areas such as countering arms trafficking and money laundering consistent with our laws and constitutions.”
Harper told reporters that the drug trade in Mexico is something that affects Canadians right in their own communities.
“As these criminal networks are transnational, it’s important that our attempts to fight them should be equally transnational.”
Obama also said the scourge of the Mexican drug trade is finding its way directly into U.S. and Canadian cities and rural areas.
“You go into rural communities and you’ve got methamphetamine sales that are devastating, you know, young and old alike, and some of that is originally sourced in Mexico,” said Obama.
“And so even in the remotest, most isolated parts of Canada or the United States, they’re being impacted by this drug trade. And we’ve got to work co-operatively in order to deal with it.”
Among the other priorities and actions outlined in the leaders’ joint statement:
The countries pledge “to introduce timely and tangible regulatory measures to enable innovation and growth while ensuring high standards of public health, safety, and environmental protection. We will continue to reduce transaction costs and improve the existing business environment.” The statement says that by eliminating “unnecessary regulatory differences,” smaller businesses are better equipped to participate in an integrated North American economy.
The leaders say that “continued North American competitiveness requires secure supply chains and efficient borders. We remain committed to achieving this through co-operative approaches.”
The leaders say that co-operation on energy “reduces the cost of doing business and enhances economic competitiveness” for the three countries. “We recognize the growing regional and federal co-operation in the area of continental energy, including electricity generation and interconnection and welcome increasing North American energy trade. We commit our governments to work with all stakeholders to deepen such co-operation to enhance our collective energy security, including the safe and efficient exploration and exploitation of resources.”
The countries have released a new plan to provide more co-operation “to strengthen our response to future animal and pandemic influenza events in North America and commit to its implementation.”
This was the sixth annual North American leaders summit — also known as the Three Amigos Summit.
The leaders also used the one-day summit to prepare for another meeting they will attend in mid-April in Cartagena, Colombia. That gathering — the Summit of the Americas — involves leaders from the nations that comprise the Organization of American States (OAS).
After that meeting, Harper will travel to Chile — where it’s expected he will make a pitch for Canada’s request to join negotiations in the TPP.
Chile is one of the original signatories to the nine countries from Asia and the Americas now negotiating access to the free-trade partnership.
—Mark Kennedy, Post Media News