The "Mexican Problem" is Canada's Problem

Canada should invest in hemispheric security by taking on the "Mexico problem", Jennifer Jeffs argues.
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December 14, 2011
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The recent border agreement with our largest trading partner is clearly an important accomplishment, but let’s face it, more important to us than to them. While about 25%  percent of Canada’s GDP depends on its exports to the US, in 2010 only 2.2 percent of US exports were tied to Canadian markets. Meanwhile, Mexico, our southernmost NAFTA partner, has an economy that is growing and attracting significant investment from countries much farther afield than Canada as well as from us. Last year, the Mexican Trade Commission office in Toronto had a target of attracting $100 million of new investment into Mexico from Ontario. Not only did that small office surpass that goal, it quadrupled it. Let’s not forget that while Europe teeters and the large emerging economies are in danger of stalling, Mexico’s growth remains impressive and if it manages to weather global economic vicissitudes, this developing country with a population three times the size of Canada will have an economy that surpasses ours within the next 20 years.

To build on the Canada-US agreement, and to think strategically about achieving a “special” relationship with the US that goes beyond the basic trade and economic relationship that we value so highly, Canada needs to pay attention to issues that concern the US. Jobs, energy,  and regulatory harmonization are always front and centre in Canada-US discussions. But Canada also needs to pay more attention to the fact that Mexico also matters to the US in these same ways, as well as in many others that go to the heart of US domestic policy: immigration, drugs,  and weapons, just for a start. Crassly stated, Mexico’s problems offer a vehicle for Canada to demonstrate to the US that it can be a special and strategic partner in more than bilateral trade matters, and that it understands US concerns in the hemisphere.



Canadians tend to perceive issues emanating from the US southern border — such as guns,  gangs, illegal immigration, drugs, and organized crime — as “their” problem, not “ours”, hence our insistent differentiation between our border and the US-Mexico border. But if Canada does not become more deeply involved with helping the US and Mexico struggles with drug cartels and criminal networks, it will not only ignore a large and important set of  US domestic issues and Canadian exposure to the social risks associated  with them, it will also fail to acknowledge the issues faced by the large number of Canadian companies with significant — and growing — investment in Mexico.

What could Canada do? How about provide support for the Merida initiative, a military and police training program in Mexico funded by the US. When the Americans notice us sitting by their side on initiatives like this, they will start to see Canada as a natural ally; what greater inroad for influence in Washington? Also, Canada currently sits as an observer rather than full member of Ameripol, a hemispheric intelligence organization. Support for these two programs will not only demonstrate Canadian solidarity with US and Mexican security concerns, it will also resonate with Canadian strategic continental and hemispheric interests.

Mexican civil society is working to strengthen and consolidate democracy and democratic institutions. While Canadians have been watching the unfolding of the Arab Spring with great interest, they have another fledgling democracy much closer at hand, a country that is also a favoured holiday destination for well over a million Canadians during the winter months. Reforms are progressing in Mexico. Labour, fiscal and, judicial reforms are a work-in-progress, as is the fight against corruption. On these files, Canada can be helpful and supportive in areas where the US — with its historical legacy with Mexico — must tread very carefully.

Greater involvement with Mexico’s democracy consolidation also enhances Canada’s reputation in the greater region, which should be another important strategic consideration given the focus on the Americas by the Harper government, the rising levels of Canadian investment in many countries in the area, and the designation of a junior minister with specific responsibility for the region.

This post first appeared on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin blog. Watch Jennifer Jeffs on The Agenda.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.