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Canada's ties to Mexico: A deeper understanding is needed

The flags of Canada and Mexico fly in the breeze at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans ahead of a leaders summit on April 21, 2008.

Judi Bottoni/Associated Press

This week's G8 summit will raise the big issues of the day - the Middle East; assistance to Japan - and Canada will be asked to play its part. But bigger than any one summit is Canada' strategic orientation to world affairs. Will we be self-interested realists or altruists? And on which regions should we focus our energies?

One region - Latin America - is already the source of growing mutual interest; our foreign direct investment in the region is three times our investment in Asia. And take Mexico: Each year, Mexico and Canada do $20-billion of trade. Around 1.5 million of us visit Mexico annually, and we play host to Mexicans, with 17,000 agricultural workers a year and a growing number of immigrants settling in Canada. Mexico is our NAFTA partner, and a "middle power" like Canada. It's not all good news, as drug-related violence has hit both countries, driven in large part by demand for drugs in North America.

Yet our government's attention to Mexico and the region is fitful, and Canadians' deeper understanding of Mexico (beyond its beaches) is lacking.

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Canada needs a top-tier institution, arms-length from government, to help us tighten our bonds with Mexico. There is a model: The Asia-Pacific Foundation was created by an Act of Parliament in 1984, and was endowed with a $50-million government grant in 2005. (By contrast, FOCAL, the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, currently gets by on less than a $1-million a year.) In Mexico, we can be both realists and altruists, and understanding that large, dynamic country is the first step to a deeper relationship.

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