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Analysis: The elephant in the room at the 'three amigos' summit

The Presidents of the United States and Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada will meet in Washington this afternoon to renew what was once a regular tradition but has recently been more honored in the breach than the observance.
A great deal has happened since the last North American leaders’ summit — dubbed the Three Amigos gathering, probably because it sounds a lot more fun than the drab reality of talks on border issues, trucking and trade. Events of recent years would have been considered impossible when then-Presidents Barack Obama, Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last got together in 2016.
The summits abruptly ended after that since Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, had no interest in being anybody’s amigo, as his campaign based on insulting Mexicans and an outrageous sulk at the G7 summit in Canada made quite clear. Trump also made a huge show of dumping the North America Free Trade Agreement which he claimed ripped the US off. Then he made a massive fanfare about his renegotiated version that wasn’t much different. And he never did get Mexico to pay for that wall.
But the North American estrangement long outlasted Trump. US and Mexican relations are still plagued by the border issue and record flows of undocumented migrants. The 19-month pandemic closure of the US border to Canadians also frustrated Ottawa (and many border state US lawmakers) since the US ended up with a far worse Covid problem than Canada.
While Biden’s revival of the summit will renew bonds of friendship, it doesn’t mean that there are not real irritants to overcome. Trudeau for example is irked over tax credits that Biden is creating for US electronic vehicles, which could cost jobs on the Canadian side of a deeply-integrated auto industry. Mexico is also concerned about US protectionism.
And though Vice President Kamala Harris talked a big game about a new era of relations with Mexico when she visited President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in August, both of America’s neighbors know that while Trump is gone for now, remnants of “American First” endure.
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