Missing from Trudeau agenda? A North American summit

If the Canadian government is pushing for renewed trilateralism, a leaders' summit should follow the state dinner in Washington in early March.

By: /
January 22, 2016
Obama Pena Nieto
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, meets Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the White House. Jan. 6, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

This article was first published by Embassy News.

As Canadian North America enthusiasts eagerly anticipate the first state dinner at the White House for a Canadian prime minister in 18 years, they should be also looking forward to the much overdue North American Leaders' Summit that was due to take place in 2015, but was repeatedly delayed until it was bounced off the agenda by our national election.

To date, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be off to a strong start in his bilateral relations with both the Mexican and United States presidents, from vying for hottest leader status on Twitter during the recent meetings that included Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, to friendly warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama of the increase in grey hair that leadership brings.

The Canadian prime minister appears to enjoy cordial relations with both his North American counterparts. Certainly we will inevitably see trade and other scuffles in the future, but all three countries are clearly equipped with superior diplomatic capacity that will smooth over any unavoidable blips in the three bilateral relationships.

However, the leaders' summit that could—and should—follow the state dinner in Washington in early March will present an opportunity for Canada’s new government to push for significant progress on regional trilateralism as a strategy. This could include: endeavours from those in health, food security and agribusiness; finally reaching an agreement and progress on a North American trusted travellers program; and addressing infrastructure inconsistencies that still plague the three NAFTA countries.

In the meantime, we must acknowledge the progress made by the North American energy ministers meetings and the trilateral agreement on clean energy, but we should also understand that this is simply a start, an example of what trilateralism can achieve. The possibilities for increased and enhanced trilateral collaboration in research, education, innovation and human capital development are virtually unlimited.

At the last North American Leaders' Summit in Toluca, Mexico in February 2014, the three leaders issued a statement that proudly proclaimed that "21st century North America" would set "new global standards for trade, education, sustainable growth, and innovation," and that “our region is among the most competitive and dynamic in the world," assuring North Americans that the three leaders at the time shared a vision as well as strong political, legal, and institutional frameworks to build upon. Indeed, President Peña Nieto’s structural reform program in Mexico bears witness to his own commitment to this vision.

Recent progress on trade agreements—in the form of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership among Canada and 11 other nations—remind us of the importance of trade for peace and prosperity. But they should not divert our attention from the fact that North America has possibilities that extend far beyond the trade precepts of NAFTA. Moreover, the TPP is far from being a done deal: Washington’s gridlocked politics will only worsen during an election year, further complicating the prospects for TPP ratification.

North America must remain a priority for Canada, for reasons of geography, economics, and geopolitics. Further delay in holding a regional leaders’ summit is valuable time lost in paving the way for a more prosperous North America.