Wall Street Journal
By Elizabeth Williamson
August 11, 2009
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — President Barack Obama concluded a summit with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts by pledging greater cooperation on uncontroversial issues like flu prevention, but he papered over trade disputes between the U.S. and its close trading partners, dashing hopes for progress on those issues.
The North American Leaders Summit, an annual meeting of the three countries’ leaders, isn’t seen as a catalyst for breakthrough agreements. But Mexican and Canadian officials had said before the two-day meeting that Mr. Obama’s response to several trade disputes could serve as a bellwether of his broader attitude on trade with Canada and Mexico, the U.S.’s largest and third-largest trading partners, respectively.
Mr. Obama played down the possibility of taking any near-term action to address Mexico’s and Canada’s concerns that "Buy American" provisions would prevent their countries’ companies from competing for projects funded by the U.S.’s $787 billion stimulus program. But he did hint a workaround might be possible, with a mention of crossborder trade between states and provinces.
Addressing the "Buy American" provisions, Mr. Obama said, "It was not something that I thought was necessary, but it was introduced at a time when we had a very severe economic situation.
"We have not seen some sweeping steps toward protectionism," he added.
Mr. Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at a postsummit news conference here on Monday, vowed to cooperate in Mexico’s fight against drug-related violence and on efforts to contain the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. They also affirmed their support for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Mr. Obama made clear he doesn’t believe substantive progress will be possible until next year on U.S. legislation to overhaul immigration. His comments didn’t surprise lobbyists working on the issue, but could disappoint some Hispanic constituents and business interests that are pushing for quicker action. Democrats are preparing to introduce legislation on immigration when Congress returns to Washington in September.
Both he and Mr. Harper declined to commit to loosening immigration restrictions on Mexicans that have become an increasing irritant to Mexico’s government.
On trade, Mr. Obama said he and the Canadian premier had discussed "mechanisms whereby states and local jurisdictions can work with the provinces to allow for crossborder procurement practices that expand the trading relationship."
Mr. Harper said he would revisit the "Buy America" issue during a scheduled visit to the White House next month, and at a meeting of the Group of 20 nations in Pittsburgh shortly thereafter. "These talks will continue," Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Obama also didn’t address an effective ban on Mexican trucks crossing the border into the U.S., a move that has made trade between the two nations more costly and cumbersome, and has angered Mexico. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. is required to allow Mexican trucks to cross the border. However, U.S. trucking companies and other critics have argued that Mexican trucks aren’t safe.
A pilot program had allowed a small number of Mexican trucks to ply U.S. highways, before Congress ended it in March following lobbying by the Teamsters Union, which represents U.S. trucking companies, among others. Mexico retaliated by imposing an estimated $2.4 billion in tariffs on 89 U.S. industrial and agricultural products, from potatoes and pears to precious-metal jewelry. Mexican truckers also are suing the U.S. under Nafta for $6 billion in compensation.
Mr. Calderón didn’t specifically mention the trucking issue during Monday’s news conference, but reiterated the need "to abide by Nafta and to resolve the pending topics that impede us to reach greater regional competitiveness."
—Cam Simpson and David Luhnow contributed to this article.
Write to Elizabeth Williamson at [email protected]
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A12