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Nov 28

From iPolitics

Today’s visit by Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto brings to mind the old proverb ‘better a good neighbour, than a distant friend’.

After a brief embrace, around the negotiation of the NAFTA in 1992-3, the Mexico-Canada relationship for much of the past two decades has been that of ‘distant friends’.

Designed to propel Mexico economically forward and enhance the clever continental integration of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA worked. Each partner prospered, although public appreciation of NAFTA stopped north of the 49th parallel.

Today, Mexico is our fifth largest export destination and our third source country for imports – including items like your refrigerator and flat-screen television, a reflection of Mexican manufacturing prowess.

Canadian manufacturers like Magna, Martinrea, and RIM are firmly established. Their Mexican operations are vital to their integrated global supply chains and nowhere is this better illustrated than at Bombardier Aerospace’s plant in Queretaro.

Walk down the streets of Mexico City and you are likely to see the red and white signage of Scotiabank, now Mexico’s seventh largest bank with over seven hundred branches. In Mexican shops you will find ‘made in Canada’ products like fish and chips.

With over $11 billion dollars in investment – making us Mexico’s fourth largest investor – Canadian enterprise, now numbering more than 2500 companies, has been well rewarded. Our mining companies do especially well, albeit not without some controversy over labor and environmental practices.

Looking forward, President-elect Pena Nieto has signaled that he wants to open Mexico to investment and to draw on Canadian know-how in difficult-to-extract energy development.

Next month in Auckland, we both join as full partners of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a process that also promises to reform and reinforce our continental trade with the USA. One outcome of today’s visit should be the development of a workplan on shared objectives.

There is already useful work underway, notably on energy and efficient border passage, between the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Business Round Table and the Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios. We need an umbrella Canada- Mexico Business Council to connect these dots and recommend to governments how we can grow this relationship.

Institutions matter and a Business Council would reinforce the work of the North American Forum that for a decade has kept alight the trilateral flame like a candle in the wind. Canadian leadership of this useful organization has now passed from Peter Lougheed to Tom D’Aquino.

D’Aquino has set for us an ambitious but attainable set of priorities: a common external tariff; a continental energy market; technological cooperation; regulatory complementarity; and a refurbishment of our infrastructure particularly as it relates to roads and rail, grids and pipelines and our gateways.

Add a security dialogue to the list with the goal of eventually integrating Mexico into NORAD. For additional inspiration look to the recent Forging a New Strategic Partnership between Canada and Mexico by Canadian Chamber of Commerce President, Perrin Beatty, and former Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Andres Rozental

Last year, 1.6 million Canadians flocked south for the sunshine, beaches, pyramids, rainforests and jungles. It’s our second favourite tourist destination. Their culture is rich: lively music and dance and authors like Carlos Fuentos and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Then there is the tequila – with over 901 brands offering a lifetime for taste-testing for Canadians enjoying Mexican hospitality.

Sadly, the welcome mat is not reciprocated. The imposition of a visa requirement in the summer of 2009 drastically curbed Mexican visitors. Last year only 130,000 Mexicans visited Canada. Bad enough that it deters tourism and potential students, it also hampers our efforts to attract investment.

Mexican investment in Canada is minimal in comparison with its investment in Latin America. We need to try harder. Having since fixed our refugee application system we should now lift the visa requirement.

We should also broaden our migrant worker program with Mexico. It has successfully supported our farming interests. Lets extend it to other service industries, including the oil sands where our home-grown labour is insufficient.

In recent speeches Foreign Minister John Baird has spoken about the convergence of Canadian values and interests in the context of a ‘dignity agenda’.

Dignity starts with law and order.

The campaign against crime and terror subsumed the administration of President Felipe Calderon. Drug cartels are a clear and present danger not just for Mexico but the wider neighborhood – Guatemala and Honduras. Their tentacles also stretch north into the US and Canada.

President-elect Pena Nieto has pledged to finish the task begun by President Calderon. Let’s help him. Put our dignity agenda into practice starting with training for Mexico’s police and judiciary.

Grace notes are important to being a good neighbour.

Having Governor General David Johnston represent Canada at the Presidential Inauguration next week in Mexico City sets the right tone. The next step should be a series of visits by Canadian cabinet ministers to meet their new Mexican counterparts to discuss how we can mutually collaborate on our broad trade, economic and security agenda.

Mexico matters to Canada. Let’s use today’s visit of President-elect Peña Nieto to revitalize a relationship that deserves more attention.

Colin Robertson is Vice-President of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

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