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US, Canada, Mexico leaders to meet in first summit since 2016

United States President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are set to meet in person in Washington, DC, for the first time in five years to discuss economic integration, immigration and the pandemic.

President Joe Biden has revived the so-called Three Amigos summit – to be held at the White House on Thursday, for the first time since 2016, when former President Donald Trump put an end to them.

“It’s the restoration – or at least the beginning – of an attempt to restore the trilateral meetings that were happening before the Trump administration decided that it was not interested in anything trilateral or multilateral,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute.

“It’s taking up where the Obama administration left off and that is trying to put a frame around the regional partnership between the US, Canada and Mexico,” Payan told Al Jazeera.

But analysts say tensions over economic policies put in place under Trump, immigration, and a Mexican energy bill, could weigh heavily on the talks.

While the meeting aims to further joint economic cooperation, both Canada and Mexico are worried about Biden’s ‘Buy American’ provisions and a proposed electric vehicle tax credit that would favour unionised, US-based manufacturers.

“This is a difficult situation because the Biden administration is now willing to subsidise chip manufacturing in the US, electric cars, incentivise buy and hire American – in that way the Biden administration is a little bit of a continuity of the Trump administration,” Payan said.

The US is the top trade partner for both Mexico and Canada, and cars and trucks are the most-traded manufactured commodity between the three, said Colin Robertson, an ex-Canadian diplomat, now at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think-tank.

“The North American automotive industry is deeply integrated and competing as a bloc in the manufacture of a world-class e-vehicle [EV] and battery industry makes good economic sense for all three countries,” Robertson told the Reuters news agency.

Both Canada and Mexico want a level playing field as they compete to lure companies to set up plants for the EV supply chain.

But Biden’s social spending and climate bill being considered in Congress includes up to $12,500 in tax credits for US-made EVs, including a $4,500 credit for union-made vehicles.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an audience of mostly university students in Washington, DC, on Wednesday that he was “concerned” about the proposed tax credits “that could have a real negative impact,” saying he would bring them up in meetings with US Congressional leaders.

Another critical issue on the agenda is immigration. The White House has said it is aiming to create a “regional vision for migration”.

Amid record-high levels of migrants arriving at the US’s southern border with Mexico, the US has been pressuring Mexico to do more to prevent migrants, mostly from Central America and the Caribbean, from reaching the border.

The US also relies on Mexico to take back asylum seekers that are being expelled under Title 42, a health care policy Trump put in place last year that allows border agents to quickly deport migrants back to Mexico, citing the need to prevent the further spread of the pandemic.

This dynamic has provided Mexico with a bargaining chip that Lopez Obrador could use as leverage to gain more concessions from Biden over his energy policies, Payan said.

“The main issue is Mexico’s role in transit migration towards the border, this is where the Lopez Obrador administration has displayed willingness to play its card against the Biden administration,” Payan said. “They know that Biden needs them.”

For Lopez Obrador, the meeting could be where Biden addresses Mexico’s contentious bill to change electricity market rules to give Mexico’s state-owned power company priority over private investment.

On Wednesday the Mexican president said he would explain the plan to Biden and Trudeau if it came up.

“It’s very simple,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference. “We want to keep electricity prices from increasing, and to end abuses by private companies, especially foreign companies.”

Lopez Obrador argues past governments rigged the market in favour of private interests. But the legislation has drawn fire from the US government and business groups, which are concerned it may not be compliant with Mexico’s North American trade obligations.

Other issues expected to be discussed on Thursday include combating the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting climate change together.

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