Michael Kergin is a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S.; Earl Anthony Wayne is a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Arturo Sarukhan is former Mexican ambassador to the U.S.
This week's North American Leaders' Summit (NALS) in Ottawa is the first time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto will discuss issues affecting the continent together. This meeting has become especially timely in light of the unfortunate British vote to leave the European Union.
With Mr. Obama counting down the months of his presidency, pundits have predicted that the Summit is unlikely to deliver any consequential measures leading to the further tightening of linkages among the three North American partners.
In addition, with the highly toxic rhetoric infecting the U.S. presidential campaign, from statements to renegotiate the NAFTA, to threats to erect a wall between two of the North American partners, and calls "to make America safe again" (with the probable consequence of thickening both U.S. borders), the atmosphere does not appear conducive to significant breakthroughs.
But the pundits might just be wrong. The three governments have been working to deepen co-operation across the continent.
The Ottawa meeting, therefore, could produce important results in five important areas.
First, the leaders should use the Summit to beam a high intensity light on the very real benefits for North American prosperity, security and environmental sustainability that have derived from closer continental relations. This is a unique opportunity to push back against the negative and mendacious assertions surfacing in U.S. political discourse and throughout the media regarding North American co-operation.
A forceful message is even more crucial when democracies are under increasing stress from nationalism, populism and nativism. The U.K. referendum will sever Britain's formal ties with the European Union and risks the dissolution of the Scottish-U.K. Union, not to speak of erecting an EU border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Centrifugal forces in continental Europe are straining the strong links wrought by the Union.
By championing North American collaboration, the leaders will send a clear message: Economic interdependence can bring prosperity without eroding national sovereignty.
Total three-way trade has increased four-fold over the past two decades, amounting to $3.4-billion a day in 2015 and, according to studies, employs over 20 million workers, directly or indirectly in the three countries. A million people cross the three borders every day, most of whom contribute substantially to the local economies, as do tens of millions of tourists.
Second, despite this positive record of trade and investment activity, there is still a need to find a better balance between the requirements for adequate security at the border and for the efficient access of goods and travellers to others markets. The leaders should direct their officials to build on the progress, for example, achieved by the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Borders Action Plan and the Mexico-U.S. "21st Century Border program" to decongest the border and facilitate the flow of legitimate trade.
Calling for improved infrastructure, compatible advanced technologies, greater convergence of regulatory regimes among the three countries and setting timetables for results would not be revolutionary, but would greatly enhance the prospects for North American productivity in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Third, the leaders must restate their commitment to the full implementation of a North America-wide "trusted traveller" system allowing precleared admission at designated ports of entry. In this connection, it is critical that Mr. Trudeau fulfill his campaign commitment to lift visa restrictions on Mexican visitors by announcing an early timetable to solve this bilateral irritant.
Fourth, improved confidence among the enforcement agencies will lead to more effective sharing of intelligence to confront the scourge of illicit drugs (especially opiates), illegal trade in weapons, terrorism and the smuggling of desperate people, many of whom are minors seeking access via Mexico's southern border. In this connection, we hope that the North American leaders will commit to programs combining the respective experiences of the three partners in order to assist Central American governments in their war against gangs and transnational criminal organizations, as well as providing governance, judicial and police training to those countries.
Finally, all three leaders have publicly expressed their commitment to combat global climate change and strengthen energy security. Accordingly, they should use the Summit to promote a North America-wide strategy aiming for the long-term energy security for the three economies. To be sustainable, this strategy should also include lowering methane and other emissions and developing alternate energy sources.
Past measures to protect and preserve the continent's wildlife, such as monarch butterflies, need to be expanded to include other endangered species, such as migratory birds. Environment ministers should be encouraged to work with their subnational counterparts in improving the water and air quality at their respective borders. There might also be more trilateral collaboration in tracking and preventing invasive species from crossing borders to contaminate vulnerable environments.
Our North American leaders have an obligation for an uplifting message and to promote a powerful vision of our common borders and interests.