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Biden is set to host the leaders of Canada, Mexico for North American leaders summit


We are going to talk now about a gathering formally named the North American Leaders' Summit. Informally, it's the three amigos. Now, that would be the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States. They meet tomorrow for the first time in five years. President Biden is hosting at the White House. Now, this used to happen regularly, but former President Donald Trump and then the pandemic paused the meetings. So we're going to talk about what is on the agenda now that the three amigos are getting back together.

We are joined by reporters in each country - Emma Jacobs in Montreal, NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City and NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hello to all three of you.



KELLY: Franco, you kick us off since you're hosting, as it were. How did these summits get back on the agenda after having been paused for a bit?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, this is mostly an annual gathering that started in 2005, and it was aimed at easing trade and other economic tensions between, you know, three countries who have a lot of common ground. But that all stopped when former President Donald Trump took over in 2017. And those next four years really left some scars, particularly after Trump ended a North American trade deal, NAFTA, of course, and negotiated a new one to replace it. It was really a tense time. You know, some of the divisions got personal, especially with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And it left a lot of people uncomfortable.

Well, now, according to the White House, Biden sees the gathering as a chance to, you know, reaffirm the relationship and turn the page after Trump. But, you know, that's not going to be easy when there are still some ongoing tensions about some big issues like immigration, energy and trade.

KELLY: Wow. Carrie, pick this up with the view from Mexico City. We heard Franco nodding there to tensions, particularly under former President Trump. But what is the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - what is his relationship today with the U.S.?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, López Obrador is a much different president than the previous Mexican leaders who've participated in these summits. He's a nationalist and some say a leftist. He likes to say that the country's best foreign policy is its national policy. He doesn't really travel. This will be only his third trip outside of Mexico as president - and all to the U.S. And he only flies commercial. He famously tried to sell the presidential plane when he took office in 2018, saying a poor country shouldn't have such a rich airplane.

And oddly enough, you know, he and Trump mended fences and had a pretty good relationship, mostly because López Obrador did what Trump wanted on migration, and Trump didn't meddle in Mexico's affairs. And that's what López Obrador really wants. He and Biden got off to a rocky start. López Obrador waited until after January 6 to congratulate Biden on his election. But they've mended fences. And yesterday, López Obrador even praised Biden. He said he showed a greater commitment to migrants, he said, than any other U.S. president.

KELLY: Emma, let's get the view from up north in Montreal. What does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau want to get out of this summit?

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: So Canada actually has some common concerns with Mexico about American protectionism - some of the buy American provisions in the president's big legislation. Trudeau said earlier this week that he'd raise this with Biden and that it's a challenge not just for companies and workers in Canada but also in the U.S. because of the integration of the two countries' supply chains and economies in general. In particular, Canada is worried about auto manufacturing. The Build Back Better bill includes some tax credits for electric vehicles that are limited to cars assembled in the United States. Right now, there's a lot of manufacturing that crosses the border. And Canada - they don't want to be shut out of this supply chain or this wider transition to making more electric cars.

KELLY: Yeah. And just more broadly, the relationship - the same question that I just put to Carrie in Mexico, let me put it to you for Canada. How has the change from the Trump administration to the Biden administration changed the relationship with Canada?

JACOBS: So as was said, President Trump had a difficult relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau. So talks with the Biden administration, they start in a much better place. But there's still some of the same issues around protectionism and some concerns that there could be greater divergence over issues like the Line 5 pipeline. And that takes Canadian oil and gas from out west to the big Canadian population centers in the east. The governor of Michigan has been trying to shut that down where it goes through the Great Lakes because of concerns about spills. It's a 1950s-era pipeline. And the two federal governments recently entered high-level treaty talks about this.

KELLY: Carrie, I'm curious how much of that sounds familiar, what the substance is that's going to be of concern to López Obrador as he heads to Washington. And I guess I should note (laughter), for sports fans out there, he may be about to encounter some ribbing about the poor performance of Mexico's team at the hands of the other two when he arrives.

KAHN: Yeah, Canada and the U.S. just beat the Mexican national soccer team, so I'm sure he won't want to talk about that. But he's most comfortable when foreign policy with the U.S. is just limited to a few issues. And he's been pushing an economic development plan for Central America and southern Mexico that he says will ease migration from those areas. And he likes to focus the conversation on that. But it's received a lukewarm reception from the U.S.

There's also a big concern from Mexico about recognition of COVID vaccines, such as the Chinese and Russian vaccines, and that they be accepted by the West. A lot of Mexicans got Russian and Chinese vaccines, and he wants those approved for travel outside of Mexico, especially within North America. He also wants vaccines distributed more equitably to poorer countries throughout Latin America.

Today, he surprisingly said he was willing to discuss his country's controversial energy policy proposal. The plan will give state-owned providers an advantage over private companies. And his policy could be a violation of the free trade agreement between the three countries, the USMCA.

KELLY: Franco, what does Biden want to get out of this?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, it's a chance for a fresh start. And according to the White House, President Biden wants to collaborate on things like fighting COVID-19 and climate change, and migration issues are also obviously important. But, you know, Biden first needs to build some trust. I've spoken with former Obama officials who say Biden has to, you know, basically reassure Canada and Mexico that the U.S. is going to be a consistent partner going forward. And there are still some concerns that Biden wants to work with them on U.S. priorities but that he's less interested in working together on what's important to them, like addressing some of the concerns that they have about the buy America proposal that Emma was talking about

KELLY: Before I let you go, lightning round - each of the three of you. What would success look like? What would count as a successful summit for each country? Carrie Kahn, you first.

KAHN: For López Obrador, it's migration. I think he wants more of a commitment from the U.S. to ease the migrants that are coming through Mexico.

KELLY: Franco, how about from the White House?

ORDOÑEZ: I think for the White House, it's about rebuilding trust and reconnecting and, you know, kind of what he said in Europe is, like, showing that America is back.

KELLY: Emma Jacobs, the view from Canada?

JACOBS: I think it's going to be about getting some of the issues that Canada cares about on the agenda, which, in many ways, are more important to Canada than they are necessarily to a Biden administration.

KELLY: So changing the agenda to something more Canada friendly. We've been talking with Emma Jacobs in Montreal, with Franco Ordoñez, our White House correspondent, and with NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks to all three of you.

JACOBS: Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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