Economy, migration and cartels to top agenda at North American Leaders Summit

US President Joe Biden and Canada's Justin Trudeau arrive in Mexico for regional summit with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, right, welcomes US President Joe Biden at Felipe Angeles International Airport in Mexico. Bloomberg
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The leaders of the US, Mexico and Canada met in Mexico City on Monday to begin a three-day summit tackling issues of regional concern, including migration and boosting economic integration.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and US leader Joe Biden had a bilateral meeting in the evening.

They were to discuss economic integration, migration, climate change and combating drug cartels, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in a preview earlier on Monday.

Mr Ebrard was speaking alongside Mr Lopez Obrador after Mr Biden arrived in Mexico City on Sunday evening for the North American Leaders Summit this week.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to join the American and Mexican leaders after his arrival on Monday evening.

Mr Biden and Mr Trudeau will hold a bilateral meeting on Tuesday before the three join in the summit.

The Mexican President accompanied Mr Biden in a limousine from the airport to his hotel and said afterwards that, during the journey, they had spoken on some of the issues that would be discussed during the summit, including migration.

Mexico has long played a pivotal role in US immigration policy. With the implementation of Title 42 during the Covid-19 pandemic, that role intensified, as the policy gives the US the ability to return asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims are being processed.

Often forming massive caravans, tens of the thousands of migrants from Central America and the Caribbean have entered Mexico through its southern border, overwhelming understaffed border crossings as they move towards the US.

As US courts continue to debate the legality of keeping Title 42 in place, Mexico has been struggling to accommodate the thousands of migrants who have been pushed back across the border.

Mexico City has urged the US to commit funds to Central America and southern Mexico to boost development and stem migration from what has long been a poor region and to make it easier for migrants to get jobs in the US.

Before his arrival on Sunday, Mr Biden visited the city of El Paso, Texas, where he inspected the border with Mexico.

"Our problems at the border didn’t arise overnight," he tweeted.

"And they won’t be solved overnight. But, we can come together to fix this broken system. We can secure the border and fix the immigration process to be orderly, fair, safe and humane."

The summit, which will take place between Monday and Wednesday, is the first time the “Three Amigos" have convened since the previous event in late 2021.

In June, Mr Lopez Obrador rejected an invitation from Mr Biden to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, as the US President had refused to invite the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, because the event was geared towards regional democracies.

“There cannot be a summit if all countries are not invited,” Mr Lopez Obrador said at the time. “Or there can be one but that is to continue with all politics of interventionism.”

Relations between the US and Venezuela have been tense for decades after the rise of Hugo Chavez, and the Biden administration has continued to uphold a controversial 60-year commercial blockade against communist Cuba.

Nicaragua's continuing political upheaval and its hard swing towards authoritarianism in recent years led to it not receiving an invitation to the Los Angeles event.

The North American leaders are expected to seek to give new impetus to strengthening economic ties during the summit, even as a major dispute grinds on over Mexico's energy policies, which has distracted from co-operation on other issues.

Oil rig catches fire in Gulf of Mexico — video

Video: Oil rig catches fire in Gulf of Mexico

Video: Oil rig catches fire in Gulf of Mexico

The US and Canada say their firms have been disadvantaged by Mr Lopez Obrador's campaign to give control of the market to his cash-strapped state energy companies.

Mr Lopez Obrador, a strong leftist, says the issue is a matter of national sovereignty and that past governments skewed the energy market to favour private interests.

Washington and Ottawa believe his policies breach the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, and have launched dispute resolution proceedings against Mexico, souring the mood for co-operation over jobs and investment.

Mr Trudeau told Reuters on Friday that he would make the case that resolving the energy dispute would help bring more foreign investment to Mexico and expressed his confidence in making progress.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic choked supply chains worldwide, policymakers have stepped up calls for firms to relocate business from Asia to make the region's economy more resilient.

Violence breaks out in Mexico cartel stronghold as ‘Chapo’ son arrested — in pictures

Another major issue likely to be under discussion is Mexico's continued battle against the drug cartels.

The most recent example of the government's struggle against the criminal groups came last week after the capture of Ovidio Guzman Lopez, son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and reported high-ranking member of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel.

The ultimate capture of Mr Guzman Lopez, who is wanted in the US, led to an explosion of violence in the state of Sinaloa, with up to 29 people killed.

More than 31,000 homicides were reported in Mexico last year, many of them suspected to have been connected to the drug trade.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: January 10, 2023, 12:37 AM