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North American Leaders To Meet in Guadalajara

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The state of the world's economy will be one of the main topics of discussion when U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. The North American leaders' summit, in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, will also focus on security, trade, and the H1N1 flu virus.
 
Economic recovery will be the first item on the agenda when President Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet in Guadalajara.

All three countries have been struggling through the global economic downturn, while many low-wage jobs have migrated from North America to Asia.

Robert Pastor, the co-director of the Center for North American Studies at Washington's American University, expects the leaders to discuss ways to make their economies more competitive.

"The economies of all three countries are doing very poorly, and whether they can coordinate and consult better than they have in the last year, would be a good step forward," he said.

Canada is America's top trading partner, and Mexico is number three, so trade will also be one of the summit's main issues.

Last year, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama advocated renegotiating the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which binds the three economies together.

He has since changed his mind. While visiting Ottawa in February, President Obama told Canada's leader he is now focused on how best to implement NAFTA.

"I recognize the concerns of Canada given how significant trade with the United States is to the Canadian economy," he said. "I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade and not contract it."

Sabina Dewan, associate director of International Economic Policy at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, says it is not likely that talk of renegotiating NAFTA will resurface.

"I think that it's sort of being tossed up in trade circles," said Dewan. "I don't think at this point in time that it is a very serious threat."
 
One contentious trade issue that will come up is the so-called "Buy American" clause in the $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus. It requires that stimulus-backed public works projects use U.S.-made materials. The clause has angered Washington's trading partners around the world, especially Canada and Mexico. One Mexican official calls it "a stone in the shoe of North American competitiveness."

The North American neighbors are also expected to talk about cooperation on energy and the environment. Prime Minister Harper laid the groundwork for the discussions when he and Mr. Obama met in Ottawa in February.  

"We are establishing a U.S.-Canada clean energy dialogue, which commits senior officials from both countries to collaborate on the development of clean energy science and technologies that will reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change," he said.

Canada and Mexico are the United States' top two foreign sources of energy.

Perhaps the most urgent issue to be discussed in Guadalajara is the expected re-emergence of the H1N1 swine flu, which swept through Mexico and the United States earlier this year.

Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, the Director of the Pan-American Health Organization, says the North American nations cooperated very well to limit the damage from the outbreak.

"They shared information, they were very transparent, they acted with a lot of solidarity-not only among themselves, sharing resources and information, but also with the rest of the world," she said.

American University's Robert Pastor says that cooperation can pave the way for efforts to blunt the effects of the next outbreak.

"The coordination between Mexico, Canada and the United States to deal with that then was excellent," he said. "And I suspect that they have already built the networks that will permit us next fall to cope with the response to it.  

Dr. Roses says she hopes the North American leaders will not let their countries' economic woes limit their preparations for the next appearance of H1N1.

"….that they will commit themselves, and also make a call to the rest of the countries that have less resources, to protect the investment in public health infrastructure," said Dr. Roses.  

Other security issues will figure prominently in the summit. The three leaders are expected to discuss organized crime -especially the violent drug syndicates in Mexico and in the western Canadian city of Vancouver.  

They are also likely to cover regional strife in Honduras and Venezuela, as well as global security issues including nuclear weapons concerns in Iran and North Korea.

Immigration policy will not be on the trilateral agenda, but Presidents Obama and Calderon will tackle the issue.

Guadalajara is Mexico's second-largest city, and it is home to 50,000 North American retirees.

As usual at summit meetings, security will be very tight. The English-language Guadalajara Reporter newspaper says the city will resemble a "fortress."

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