North American Leaders Confront Rising Tide of Protectionism

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) -
From left, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama take part in the North American Leaders' Summit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
From left, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama take part in the North American Leaders’ Summit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

North America’s leaders, at their summit in the Canadian capital, are confronting a rising tide of economic protectionism and nationalism.

President Barack Obama arrived in Ottawa for talks on Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Obama planned to address the Canadian Parliament – the ninth American leader to do so and the first since Bill Clinton in 1995.

Trade, the environment and fallout from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union were expected to top the agenda.

The attack on a Turkish airport in which 41 people died on Tuesday was adding to the urgency of discussions about how the three countries can work together to enhance security.

Cooperation on a range of issues was a theme less than a week after Britain’s vote to leave the EU highlighted public fears about globalization.

The North American leaders’ meeting came as Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president, blamed globalization for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs and threatens to extricate the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement, in effect since 1994. Trump on Tuesday also pledged that as president, he would withdraw from an agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that has yet to take effect. And it was only last week that Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Canada’s international trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, noted that the meeting of the three pro-trade leaders was taking place at a pivotal moment.

“This is a time when a lot of leaders in the world are talking about building walls,” Freeland said in an interview with The Associated Press. “What you are going to hear from the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico is that we are a continent and we believe in building bridges. We really believe in the open society. Those are core Canadian values, open to immigration, open to visitors and open to trade.”

Trump also has advocated building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trudeau pointed to the North American example of economic integration and warned of the risks of protectionism and nationalism.

“Better collaboration, better partnerships are a path to prosperity,” Trudeau said Tuesday. “And that’s a compelling example that we want to showcase at a time where, unfortunately, people are prone to turning inwards, which will unfortunately be at the cost of economic growth and their own success.”

Trudeau and Pena Nieto announced measures to reduce barriers during the Mexican leader’s state visit to Canada before the summit. Trudeau said Canada will lift visa requirements for Mexican visitors as of December 2016. Pena Nieto agreed to open Mexican markets to Canadian beef.

Efforts to curb global warming were expected to be a big part of the summit.

White House officials said the leaders intended to pledge to rely on renewable energy to generate 50 percent of North America’s electrical power by 2025 and Mexico would commit to joining the United States and Canada in tackling methane emissions.

Obama adviser Brian Deese said it was an unprecedented effort to develop a continentwide strategy on climate change and that the U.S. has the tools it needs, including tax credits for renewables, to reach the target.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he anticipated that the United Kingdom’s EU vote would come up at the summit. He said the North American countries focused on trade, while the EU also moved to establish a common currency, the euro.

“The countries of North America have pursued a different strategy and one that has worked well for us,” Earnest said. “It is a strategy that has enhanced the economies of all our countries. It’s enhanced the national security of all our countries, and it certainly has made North America the most successful continent in the world.”