North America looks to Asia for expanded trade

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MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s president hosts the leaders of the United States and Canada on Wednesday, with the North American neighbors turning their gaze toward Asia to revitalize their 20-year-old trade bloc.

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President Enrique Pena Nieto will welcome US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the ornate government palace of Mexico State in the city of Toluca, his homeland.

While Mexico’s drug violence has stolen the spotlight in past summits, Pena Nieto will likely seek to turn attention to economic matters and the North American Free-Trade Agreement (Nafta), which turned 20 in January.

Once billed as the gathering of the “Three Amigos,” the summit comes amid some friction.

Mexico is fuming over Canada’s refusal to end visa requirements which make it complicated for Mexicans to visit. Pena Nieto will have a chance to address the issue on Tuesday, because Harper will already be in Mexico for the summit.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, is pressing the United States to finally make up its mind about the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial project that would bring oil from Canada to Texas which has met massive objections from environmentalists.

But the talks will focus on how to improve a trade bloc accounting for around one-third of the world’s gross domestic product.

Looking to Asia
Although Nafta has led to massive trade between the neigh–bors, officials concede that gaps remain and that its future potential rests on reaching a trade pact with Asian nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“It is not in the interest of the three countries to reopen the North American Free-Trade Agreement,” said Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Sergio Alcocer.

“The negotiations are taking place via the TPP to cover those items that were not included in the agreement 20 years ago,” he added.

US officials say the TPP could prompt the North American partners to agree on labor and environmental standards that were lacking within Nafta.

“There’s been some criticism in the past around some of the issues that were not addressed in Nafta,” a senior US administration official said on condition of anonymity.

“TPP is in part intended to plug those holes,” the official said.

The US official said that the administration hopes to complete the 12-nation TPP deal this year, after failing to reach an agreement in 2013.

The TPP project includes the Nafta nations along with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, making up 40 percent of the global economy.

AFP

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