The North American bloc's three national leaders have a special mission when they meet in June: sending a statement about Donald Trump without saying much about the man.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plays host to U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the North American Leaders' Summit on June 29 and Mr. Trump's campaign is anathema to all of them, separately and as the Three Amigos. In particular, it's Mr. Trump's broad assault on a North American trading bloc that clashes.
It's a peculiar kind of awkward for Mr. Pena Nieto. Mr. Trump has pledged to build a wall along Mexico's border and accused the country of "sending rapists" to the United States. But a sitting Mexican president has to worry about the dignity and effectiveness of scorching a campaigning candidate. So will the Three Amigos publicly address the elephant that promises to wreck the room – Mr. Trump?
"I don't think they have to," Paulo Carreno King, Mexico's undersecretary of foreign affairs for North America, said in an interview last week. "Or at least I don't think the President of Mexico has to address a candidate." Campaigns, he said, always have overrated rhetoric.
But that doesn't mean they won't say anything. The Mexican President and most likely all three leaders, want the summit itself to be a statement, an assertion of the value of North American co-operation. Climate change and hemispheric security will be on the agenda, but what Mexico wants most, Mr. Carreno said, is for the summit to underline that in a world of economic competition between regional blocs, North American economic co-operation is an advantage. They want the summit to symbolically counter the anti-NAFTA tone of Mr. Trump.
"In itself, the meeting is a very powerful message, of a historical current, if I may use the term, against that tone. Against those points of view," Mr. Carreno said. "This candidate that you're mentioning is not the first anti-migration candidate, he's not the first anti-globalization candidate, he's not the first candidate based on isolation claims and policies. And he won't be the last one. So we have to work and achieve a better environment, to have a more powerful voice."
It's not as simple as Mr. Trump, either. U.S. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has spoken out against the North American free-trade agreement and the export of jobs to Mexico. Front-runner Hillary Clinton has turned cool to NAFTA, at least on the campaign trail. In Congressional races in many parts of the United States, NAFTA is a term used to get crowds riled up and jeering. And that clashes heavily with the leaders of the two countries on either side.
Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pena Nieto have embraced the notion of a closer North America. Mr. Trudeau promised to improve ties with Mexico and to do so, lift the requirement that Mexicans obtain visitors' visas to come to Canada. That will remove a long-standing grievance for Mexico and, Mr. Carreno said, at least double the flow of Mexican tourists to Canada. Mr. Carreno said he could feel both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pena Nieto were keen on improving ties when they first met.
"I was present during the first bilateral between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Pena Nieto and you could feel the second they had a handshake that things were different. There is a whole new dynamic," he said. The fact both were keen on quickly organizing a North American summit – nixed by Stephen Harper last year when his ties with both leaders were cool – is a symbol of that, he said.
Mr. Obama, in his last year in office, has renewed interest, too, notably in continental measures on climate change. There are opportunities with the U.S. administration that's in office, Mr. Carreno said, so Canada and Mexico should take advantage. It's too soon to figure out the hypothetical scenarios of the next administration.
But awkward or not, Mr. Trump and his anti-NAFTA sentiment are on the continental agenda. If they can't speak about the candidate, they'll try to make a counter-statement about the continent.