Canada and Mexico are putting new air travel measures in place that should boost tourism and business opportunities between the two countries, Mexico's ambassador says.
Francisco Suarez said the change is among the initiatives that could come up when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto meet in Mexico next week. The two leaders will be joined by U.S. President Barack Obama on February 19 for a trilateral summit that is expected to focus on economic co-operation.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Suarez said easing restrictions on air travel should increase the number of direct flights between Mexican and Canadian cities, benefiting both tourists and business travellers. Canada and Mexico initially reached an expanded agreement on the issue in 2011 but have not yet ratified the deal.
The ambassador said he is particularly hopeful that direct flights will open up between Mexico City and Calgary because he expects the Canadian city to become an important hub for Mexican energy companies seeking outside expertise. Mexico, which has significant shale-gas deposits and a strong potential for deep-water oil production, recently opened its energy sector to foreign investment after decades of state control.
But Mr. Suarez added that as long as a visa requirement remains in place for Mexican travellers, any increase in flight traffic will be disproportionately in Mexico's favour. Mexicans have needed visas to travel to Canada since 2009, a restriction that has been criticized as a roadblock to advancing relations between the two countries.
"If we're going to have a new aviation agreement that liberalizes airplane movement between Canada and Mexico, it's theoretically so we increase the movement of people both ways," Mr. Suarez said. "What's going to happen is we're going to have it one way [to Mexico]. So that benefits us."
The Mexican government has offered a number of ideas aimed at easing the current visa restrictions, including requests that Canada expedite visa approvals for Mexicans who have already been approved to spend time in the United States. Mexico has also suggested simplifying visa application forms and making renewals easier.
However, Mr. Suarez said Mexico would not allow questions about visa requirements to detract from next week's talks and would instead keep the focus on the "big picture" of trade and investment in North America. Mr. Suarez spoke enthusiastically about new opportunities for Canadian businesses in Mexico, adding that his government is eager to work with Canada on regional trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"I would like to underline that Canada and Prime Minister Harper's visit is a foreign-policy priority for Mexico. Canada is a foreign-policy priority for Mexico," Mr. Suarez said. "I think we're very clear that we want the visit to be a success."
He said Mexico would welcome Canadian expertise in oil and gas exploitation and on transportation infrastructure. Mr. Pena Nieto is expected to travel to Canada in June and will likely stop in Calgary, Mr. Suarez said. "I am somewhat joking, but he will have a de facto stampede of [people from] energy services industries …they will be very interested in speaking with the President," he said.
Mr. Suarez said Mexico and Canada are also working on an agreement to provide financing for small and medium businesses. And he said efforts are under way to strengthen links between Canada, Mexico and the United States on higher education, including more opportunities for student exchanges.
A spokeswoman for Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander said the visa requirement was imposed on Mexico to protect the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee system, and declined to comment on any possible changes to the current rules. "Canada continues to work with the Mexicans on this issue and is monitoring the situation," Alexis Pavlich wrote in an e-mail. "We want to reassure genuine visitors that they continue to be welcomed and are encouraged to visit and experience Canada."