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Last updated: February 20, 2014 9:56 pm
When the leaders of the US, Canada and Mexico met for their annual summit, how to further trade integration, boost competitiveness and work together on infrastructure were all high on the agenda.
But surprisingly, one of the summit’s most concrete proposals was how to protect the monarch butterfly, a species native to all three countries whose migration to Mexico, environmentalists say, is in peril from toxic modern agriculture.
A group of academics and environmentalists urged the three leaders in a letter ahead of the summit to take action “to save the living symbol of the North American Free Trade Agreement”, saying that the pesticides used in conjunction with genetically modified corn and soya bean have decimated the breeding habitat in the US of what they called “the world’s most revered butterfly”.
The plea did not fall on deaf ears. “We have agreed to create a tri-national working group to work on preserving the monarch butterfly,” Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president, told a news conference at the end of a one-day summit with Barack Obama, the US president, and Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister.
The leaders discussed more usual topics, agreeing to analyse new financing mechanisms to finance infrastructure projects – though they gave no details – as well as to work together to meet high clean fuel standards for heavy duty trucks and to advance on climate change initiatives and boost student exchanges.
Mr Obama pledged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a planned trade pact, would reach a “successful conclusion”.
“We’ll get this passed,” he said, adding that the three Nafta partners which held themselves up as champions of free trade “can present a united front” and lead by example for other countries with less of a free-trade tradition.
Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy minister, told the Financial Times before the summit that the meeting came at a “very strategic moment” as abundant, cheap energy promised to boost competitiveness.
“The TPP is complementary to what we are doing with Nafta,” he said, noting that of a rash of free-trade agreements which Mexico has signed, only one is with an Asian country: Japan. Mexico wants to boost strategic ties with Asia and “TPP is the way to do it”, he said.
“Nafta has worked well but the way to move forward is to deepen integration and increase trade among the three countries,” echoed Luis de la Calle, a former Nafta negotiator for Mexico. “Now the challenge is to transform North America into an export platform to the world, and the best country to do that is Mexico,” he added, highlighting Mexico’s abundant energy resources and good logistics.
The leaders promised to cut red tape, boost existing “trusted traveller” programmes and make border crossings more efficient, but barely mentioned drugs and organised crime and were light on details of their initiatives. They also reaffirmed a shared commitment to clean energy and security, and pledged to follow up on implementation of their agreements.
The US and Canadian leaders discussed the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the US, but predictably made no new announcements.
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