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Canada needs stronger ties with Mexico

Ottawa Citizen

NAFTA trio must co-operate

With 60 per cent of our GDP and one in five jobs linked to exports, Canada is a trading nation.

Since 1994, much of our trade has taken place within the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which joined Canada, the United States and Mexico in one of the world's largest freetrade zones.

The results have been impressive: In the past two decades, North American trade has grown 265 per cent, and investment between NAFTA partners has increased six-fold.

Yet there remains significant untapped potential in the North American relationship. This is due in part to our predisposition to act according to a pattern described by some experts as "dual-bilateralism"; instead of working on a tripartite basis to address issues of common interest and concern, that is, Canada and Mexico each tend to work closely with the United States - and to a lesser degree with each other.

Recent developments in Mexico make the case for a rebalancing of the North American relationship even more compelling.

Already Canada's third-largest partner for trade in merchandise, with bilateral trade valued at $32 billion in 2013, Mexico's recent move to reopen its energy sector to private industry has created opportunities for Canadian suppliers of energy-sector technology and expertise. There are further opportunities for Canada-Mexico cooperation in mining, financial services, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing.

To maximize these relationships, however, Canadians and Mexicans need to get to know each other better.

Academic and research exchanges build cultural awareness and language capacities, and help to create citizenambassadors and business connections. Person-to-person relationships can also foster more reasoned perspectives about a country's reputation.

The disappearance and killing of 43 student teachers from the town of Iguala last September, for example, remains indelibly etched into many Canadians' memories. Such events validate the fact that Mexico continues to suffer from serious challenges related to corruption, the rule of law and security. But they also overshadow the important judicial and legal reforms being undertaken by Mexico's federal government to address these issues, and most visitors to the country experience no risk to themselves or their property.

Canada's reputation among Mexicans, for its part, is affected by the ongoing requirement that Mexicans wishing to enter Canada obtain a visa. New measures reduce the burden on many low-risk Mexicans wishing to visit Canada, yet Eric Miller of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives insists that, "The single best thing that the federal government could do to improve Canada's economic linkages with Mexico is to establish a path to eliminate the visa (requirement)."

Underscoring these and other issues in its recent report, North American Neighbours: Maximizing Opportunities and Strengthening Cooperation for a More Prosperous Future, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade calls for greater cooperation between Canada and Mexico.

As many businesses and private-sector thinktanks told our committee, products are increasingly not "made in Canada," but "made in North America" - with unfinished goods sometimes crossing North American borders several times before they are ready for retail.

Inefficiencies, delays and discrepancies in the ways in which Canada, the United States and Mexico process shipments of goods and services across their respective borders could, for example, be reduced through trilateral regulatory harmonization.

Trade diplomacy efforts by the federal government, and co-operation between Canadian provinces and territories and their state-level counterparts in Mexico and the United States, are also creating new linkages, facilitating the development of investment and competitiveness frameworks and improving supply-chain integration. It is critical that these initiatives respond to the needs of businesses.

Every relationship needs to be constantly worked upon, fostered and improved. This remains as true as ever in our relations with the United States. But there is today a growing sense that a more strategic engagement with Mexico - not only as our "other NAFTA partner," but as a partner of fundamental importance to our continental relations - can help stimulate a more co-operative and trilateral North America, and a more competitive and prosperous continent.

Raynell Andreychuk is senator for Saskatchewan.