WHITE HOUSE - U.S., Canadian and Mexican leaders strongly rejected a wave of trade protectionism and anti-globalization Wednesday at the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hailed the benefits of the 22-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, at a time when international trade deals are being attacked in the United States and Europe. Together, the three countries account for almost 27 percent of the world's economic output.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said the meeting was a bit poignant ahead of what he termed Obama’s "pending retirement." The trio declared their close friendship and high regard for each other, reinforcing the playful "Three Amigos" nickname some in the media have given them.
At a trilateral news conference in Ottawa, the leaders were asked if they are concerned about likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, protectionist and isolationist campaign rhetoric. The Canadian and Mexican leaders said they would respect the will of the American people and work with whoever is elected president, but they made clear they support free trade and friendly cooperation.
Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:
Mexican President Peña Nieto said some politicians look for simple solutions, turning to populism, protectionism and isolationism, not appreciating all the economic benefits they would squander.
President Obama agreed with Trudeau and Peña Nieto that an attitude of "pulling up the drawbridge" would be bad for the interconnected global economy. Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama went on what he admitted was a long "rant" about Trump, saying he objected to calling people who are currently “popping up” populists. Obama said he genuinely cares about poor people and making sure kids get an education. But he said “somebody else” who has never shown any regard for workers or for helping ordinary people is not a populist. That rhetoric, Obama said, is not populism: “It is nativism, xenophobia or worse. Or it is just cynicism to say controversial things to win votes."
Obama said he does believe that people who have complaints about trade have a legitimate gripe about globalization, but the prescription of withdrawing from trade deals is the wrong medicine. He rejected Trump’s negative comments on Mexicans and other immigrants, saying they are "not representative of America."
Brexit, trade deals
Asked about Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Obama said he would advise British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others to “take a deep breath” and to proceed with negotiations in an orderly and well thought-out way.
At least some of the voter sentiment that led to last week's British decision to exit the European Union has been attributed to anti-globalization. In the United States, Republican presidential contender Trump says he wants to renegotiate or scrap NAFTA, saying it has cost thousands of U.S. jobs and cut wages for American workers.
The three North American leaders also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and how they plan to ratify it in their respective countries. Trump also opposes that deal, as does Hillary Clinton, the presumptive U.S. Democratic presidential nominee, although she originally called it the "gold standard" of trade deals.
Clean energy deal
Obama, Trudeau and Peña Nieto agreed on a pact to try to boost North America's generation of clean electricity in the next decade, aiming to produce half of North America's electricity from non-carbon sources by 2025.
Currently, a little more than one-third of the continent's electricity comes from clean energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower or nuclear energy.
The U.S. and Canada have committed to cutting methane gas emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels over the coming decade, preserving more land and marine areas of the Arctic, and speeding development of green technologies. President Peña Nieto also is expected to announce his country's commitment to that goal.
Mexico faces additional challenges, as it plans to double its clean energy production in the next eight years. According to the International Energy Association, 18 percent of Mexico's total power generation is from clean energy, but it has already passed legislation committing to reach 35 percent by 2024.
Although negotiations are the responsibility of Britain and the EU, the White House says North American countries will need to continue to engage with a range of partners to discuss the implications and effects.