President Barack Obama is in Mexico today for a day of trade talks with the other North American Free Trade Agreement partner nations. But while the expectations are low for the summit, the stakes remain ever high.
This is the seventh time that the three leaders of the NAFTA nations have gathered for a summit. This time Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is hosting in Toluca with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attending.
But Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the Texas border city of Laredo, said this isn’t going to be a landmark meeting of the group nicknamed "The Three Amigos."
“Yah, I don’t think there are going to be any great announcements. I just don’t see it,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said Obama is facing several big challenges at the meeting that are caused by problems with his own political base.
Canada wants to see movement on the Keystone XL Pipeline and Mexico is focused on forging ahead with an agreement that makes NAFTA look like papas fritas – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a free-trade agreement for countries in the Pacific Rim. Many Democrats -- not including Cuellar -- oppose those items and Cuellar said that is tying Obama's hands in Toluca.
“So I think the president has to tip toe around those items and talk about the things that are possible under the current laws and structure," Cuellar said.
That means finding ways to make NAFTA work better.
“The key issues that will be covered in the summit will focus on trade and investment and economic competitiveness for North America but there will also be side conversations likely around other trilateral issues like citizen security, perhaps immigration, perhaps energy,” said Joseph Parilla, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Senior White House officials speaking on background said that while there is no big headline-grabbing agreement to be touted coming out of Toluca, the work that will be done will improve the flow of commerce between the three nations.
Twenty years of NAFTA shows us that when that happens the continental economy creates more jobs – and that’s the focus of all three leaders.