North American Leaders’ Summit, a case for freer migration and trade

The anti-trade rhetoric used by the current candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has preoccupied Obama, as he can only hope that the one who makes it to the White House will understand the importance that trade has to the American economy and to the strong partnership of the North American region.


The US President, Barack Obama, the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, met at the North American Leaders Summit 2016 in Canada, in order to discuss free trade and economic policies, besides announcing an important agreement on climate change. In this matter, the three countries agreed to increase energy efficiency, reduce methane emissions and standardize energy regulations. All this in order to produce half of the power these three countries use through clean energy by 2025.

This summit, best known as the “Three Amigos” summit, is in fact an annual meeting among the heads of government of the North America countries since 2005. This year, in spite of the main topics of this summit, it called special international attention for two things. The first one was an awkward triple handshake among the three leaders that became subject of jokes around the world, and the second one was the heated electoral campaign in the United States and Brexit in Europe, given the fact that both of them are widely plagued by discourses of xenophobia and isolationism. President Obama openly criticized isolationists and xenophobes, as well as the critics of globalization and freer trade.

Making a case on globalization and freer trade, studies have already pointed out all the benefits that the world can get from the freer flows of goods, ideas, culture, and people that globalization is characterized for. All this is facilitated by the transportation and technology services that are increasingly available to more and more people. We also have to acknowledge, of course, that not everything is 100% good and harmless, and that globalization has also major negative effects, especially on the poorest countries. But for these three countries, the benefits would greatly exceed the odds.

It is has been widely and empirically proven, for example, that immigrants play an important part in the economic growth of both the United States and Canada, and it is certainly a beneficial opportunity for migrants and their families left behind. Eventually, the economies of the sending countries, or the countries that send migrants, also get enormous benefits given the positive impact of the huge injection of free-of-tax money in the form of remittances, which goes mostly to consumption, education and health services, boosting these economies and reaching a regional equilibrium and reduction of inequality. A freer migration among these three countries would only enhance these benefits. Even though the United States still has great barriers for obtaining visa by Mexicans, Canada recently announced that it would lift visa requirements for Mexicans beginning this December in order to tighten the relationship of the two countries through a freer flow of ideas, culture and people, which was praised by Obama who said that “the world needs more Canada”. The Canadian Prime Minister emphasized the importance of the immigration history of these three countries pointing it out as a strength that should be taken advantage of.

The United States has not made any statement about freer migration of Mexicans, and it seems like the panorama would not change much in the near future. One of the obstacle to this freer migration policy would be if Donald Trump become the next US president, given his known anti-immigration discourse. Another danger is the Supreme Court, the same one that recently blocked Obama’s anti-deportation executive order. The Obama administration attempted to bypass Congress with an executive order that would have granted amnesty to millions of irregular immigrants in the country through the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), allowing them to look for lawful employments. However, this attempt has been blocked by lower courts until it reached the Supreme Court that with a split decision blocked it again.

In the summit, the three leaders clearly agreed and argued against protectionism and isolationism using Brexit as an example, emphasizing the importance that interconnectedness has for big economies and that isolation is not the answer to the economies. Obama additionally warned against those politicians who play xenophobic discourses and support anti-immigrants policies as an answer to real problems such as inequality and poverty. For his part, Peña Nieto opposed to the idea of building a wall in the frontier between Mexico and the United States but assured he would work with the next President of his neighbor country and pointing out the importance of working together in order to deepen economic ties despite the anti-globalization debate.

Dott.ssa Ana Figueroa

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