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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a bilateral meeting with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley during the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 8.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The prime minister of Barbados evoked a Jamaican reggae legend Wednesday as she described in stark terms the “triple crisis” in her region that’s threatening the health and welfare of the entire Western Hemisphere.

“Bob Marley would say, ‘So much trouble in the world,”’ Mia Mottley said at the outset of a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for him the first of many at this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

The plight Mottley described is hardly unfamiliar: the lasting economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, soaring fuel and food costs exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, and a climate crisis that’s being felt most acutely in tiny island nations like Barbados.

She also cited the worsening problem of antimicrobial resistance, a particular scourge in her part of the world that’s killing more than a million people each year by rendering life-saving medications and treatments ineffective.

And she suggested that it’s high time the rest of the world – or at least the dozens of leaders gathered this week in California – take notice.

“We don’t expect things to change immediately,” Mottley said.

“But what we expect is fairness, what we expect is transparency, what we expect is that just as we want to see people here, we want people to see, feel and hear us as well.”

For Trudeau, it was a fitting start to a summit that for Canada is focused on finding lasting solutions to the ever-present economic and social challenges for Latin American and Caribbean countries – challenges that pose potentially grave threats to the developed countries that lie further north.

Mottley and Trudeau later took part in a roundtable discussion with leaders from Chile, Belize, Ecuador and Jamaica. Trudeau said they heard complaints about large financial institutions failing to provide the support necessary for small and developing countries to help their citizens.

Trudeau said it is vital for their democracies to thrive and for their people to share in the rewards and realize the benefits.

“We need – as like-minded countries, but quite frankly, as a world – we need democracies to succeed,” he said.

“In order for democracies to succeed at a time where they’re backsliding, where they’re under pressure from all sorts of corners of the world, we need our citizens to feel that success.”

Fostering economic success and social stability at home is a key part of the strategy for staving off another problem confronting the hemisphere: the constant migratory tide of would-be refugees who are making their way to the Mexico-U.S. border.

“Nobody leaves his or her home because they want to, they leave because there are no opportunities – because they’re facing poverty and an untenable situation,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly after the first of her two scheduled meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We have to look at the question of creating opportunities in our hemisphere. We need to give trust in people that they can be living in their country, having access to services, to good education for their children, and good health care.”

Canada’s goal, she added, is “to make sure that some of the concerns of these countries are addressed by our American friends.”

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Los Angeles late Wednesday to kick off the summit – but not before he took advantage of being on the West Coast to tape an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Biden is using the opening ceremony to unveil a new hemispheric “partnership” aimed at driving economic growth across the region, which the White House says accounts for 31.9 per cent of global GDP.

The new initiative appears to be a continental cousin to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, Biden’s new partnership with regional powers like Japan, India and South Korea to counter the growing influence of China.

And it’s a chance for Canada to get serious about partnering with the United States, said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada.

“It’s an opportunity for us to not just seem to be, but actually be a reliable partner that the United States can count on to help advance our collective interests,” said Hyder, who took part in meetings with other private-sector stakeholders on the margins of the summit.

Hyder has assailed the Trudeau government for not being more aggressive in seeking an invitation to the Indo-Pacific party.

“You assert yourself into these things, because it is in our national interest,” he said. “These frameworks are America’s response to wanting to stay away from trade agreements, clearly. So it’s best to be in the room than on the outside looking in.”

Canada is using the summit to push for “urgent action” to confront climate change, another key factor in fuelling out-migration, and looking for funding initiatives to help countries in the region.

Advancing gender equality and fostering the economic and democratic growth that comes with it is another pillar of Canada’s summit strategy.

Trudeau also met Wednesday with Shilpan Amin, the president of General Motors International, about electric vehicles, the hemisphere’s climate goals and the effort to energize economic growth.

Enhancing economic integration and opportunities for export growth in the region will be another key driver of success, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in Ottawa.

“I think that this is an economic zone where Canada can play a leading role with the Caribbean, with Central America, with South America.”

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