President Obama is meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Little in the way of progress on a number of issues that divide the three countries — each of whose core interests include having few major disagreements with their neighbors — is expected.
The three leaders would do well to move beyond diplomatic statements about "frank discussions" and start thinking outside the box. But that might take some political initiative.
All three are concerned about Mexico's decision to take on drug cartels openly, which has led to 12,000 deaths since 2006 and the cartels apparently as strong as ever, or stronger. Mexico is upset that the U.S. continues to renege on an agreement under NAFTA to allow Mexican trucks to operate in the United States. Canada, our number-one trading partner, is upset with "buy American" provisions in the Obama stimulus package.
Canada and Mexico are feuding as well: upset that "too many" Mexican immigrants are claiming political asylum, Canada started requiring visas for all Mexican visitors, and Mexico began requiring visas for Canadian diplomats and government officials.
The place to start thinking creatively is the drug war. As if the slaughter in Mexico were not enough, the urgency of a fresh approach was underlined this week by reports that the FARC rebels in Colombia have become the most important suppliers of illegal drugs to North America. The solution, controversial as it may seem, is to acknowledge that prohibition is not working and start crafting policies that seek to reduce rather than increase harm, undermine the power of criminal gangs (whether ostensibly political or not), reduce official corruption, and allow law enforcement to focus on real crime.
Instead, President Obama will announce even more support (perhaps with a few more strings) for President Calderon's ill-advised shooting war.
On trade, the U.S. should take the lead as the senior partner and end the prohibition on Mexican trucks in the U.S. Combined with drug law reform, this will help the economy recover from recession — and reduce the number of Mexicans who feel the need to flee their country and claim political asylum.
Unfortunately, we do not expect big steps on either front.