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The Globe and Mail

Mexico meeting in February gives Harper chance to talk trade

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama are pictured at a G20 meeting in 2012. Sources say Mr. Harper sent a letter to the President in late August, 2013, that urged joint action to reduce emissions in the oil and gas industry.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who is looking to sign a second major trade deal before the next election – will have an opportunity to talk trade directly with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts next month when North American leaders meet in Toluca, Mexico, for a summit.

Having reached a comprehensive trade deal last year with the European Union, Mr. Harper's trade focus now turns to the 12 member Trans Pacific Partnership – a group that includes the U.S. and Mexico.

Though the three nations are natural trade allies due to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian business community is hoping February's meeting will be an opportunity for them to work more closely together in order to bring the TPP negotiations to a close.

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"There should have been much closer cooperation on TPP," said Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. "There hasn't been that sort of co-ordinated approach. I would hope that they would do that."

The meeting was first announced Monday by the White House.

With U.S. midterm elections coming up in November, there is a limited window of opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to close negotiations. The President has recently focused his domestic political message on fighting income inequality and protecting middle class jobs, but union leaders in the U.S. have warned they will not support a new trade deal if it is modelled on the North American free-trade agreement. The American Federation of Labor is a vocal critic of NAFTA, arguing it has cost American jobs and reduced wages.

The U.S. wanted to conclude negotiations before the end of 2013. The TPP is a wide-ranging trade negotiation that currently involves 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Stephen Lecce, a spokesperson for Mr. Harper, confirmed the Prime Minister's attendance.

"Prime Minister Harper will be focused on strengthening our trade, energy and security relationship with our partners in the United States and Mexico. Our top priority remains creating jobs and driving economic growth through free trade," he said in an email Monday.

The House of Commons will not be sitting the week of the meeting in Mexico. The Globe and Mail reported earlier this month that the Conservative government is planning to table its 2014 budget during the week of Feb. 10, though no final decisions on budget timing have yet been made.

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White House spokesman Jay Carney said the talks would focus on "a range of issues important to the daily lives of all of North America's people, including economic competitiveness, entrepreneurship, trade and investment, and citizen security."

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