President Bush will receive Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox at his ranch in Texas Wednesday. The three leaders will hold talks early in the day at Baylor University in nearby Waco, Texas to initiate a new trilateral association. Security and economic growth are both part of the plan.
Senior Administration officials say the trilateral meeting in Waco will set the stage for the development of what they call "enduring mechanisms" to promote greater security and prosperity for all three North American nations. They say this new structure would not replace or alter the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which already provides strong trade links between the three countries. The Bush administration officials say the new initiative would involve working groups from ministries in all three nations that would develop and facilitate specific mechanisms to promote security and prosperity.
Speaking to reporters in Mexico City Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza provided a clearer view of what the new structure might entail. He called it "The North American Association for Security and Prosperity." Ambassador Garza said the working groups would involve officials designated by cabinet members in each nation who would be charged with putting together a specific plan and calendar of action before June.
One issue that officials say will not be part of Wednesday's meeting in Waco will be immigration, although it remains a contentious issue between the United States and Mexico. Mexico's deputy secretary for North America, Geronimo Gutierrez, says the trilateral summit is not the place for this discussion.
He says immigration is a topic for bilateral discussions between the United States and Mexico because there are distinct issues involved for each country.
He says the trilateral meeting in Texas Wednesday will concentrate on such issues as making North America more competitive with Europe and Asia. The immigration issue is likely to come up in a brief, separate meeting between Presidents Bush and Fox right after the trilateral meeting.
Among more immediate concerns for Mr. Fox is the planned deployment of hundreds
of U.S. citizen volunteers, calling themselves "Minutemen" along the border in Arizona to assist in efforts to stop illegal immigration in that area. The Bush administration has pledged to prevent any illegal vigilante activity, but organizers of the group in Arizona say they will act within the law to assist US Border Patrol agents and will not take any direct actions against immigrants.
Prime Minister Martin may also use the meeting here in Waco to discuss his concerns over a U.S. ban on Canadian beef resulting from mad-cow disease worries and a dispute over duties on certain types of lumber from Canada.
Relations between the United States and its two neighbors were strained by the Iraq war, which was broadly opposed in both Mexico and Canada. Last month, Mr. Martin, who came to office last year, surprised Washington by rejecting Canadian participation in a U.S.-missile-defense program. However, officials from all three nations describe such matters as minor irritants and stress that overall relations remain strong and friendly.