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Americas

Three amigos mean business

The number three seems to be the denominator at the core of the latest North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, on Wednesday. Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and Enrique Pena Nieto have plenty to discuss.

The leaders of the US, Canada and Mexico have only three hours more or less to broadly brush stroke over a myriad of issues including economics, competitiveness, energy, security cooperation, how to get more out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - and then some.

Since this annual get together started in 2005, the media has coined the term "Tres Amigos," after a highly entertaining 1986 comedy Western, starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. One quote from one of its characters, Lucky Day, particularly stands out: "Well….we're going to have to use our brains!" ensuing groans!

Current circumstances aren't particularly favorable either, says Silvia Nuñez, Director of the Center for North American Studies at Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM).

"One of the things that worries me about the three is not only their ability to communicate to their citizens. But, I've also seen the popularity of Barack Obama decreasing. The US is facing midterm congressional elections, so everything right now is politics there. And in Canada, they may be facing elections in 2015, and the situation in the domestic arena isn't very easy. While in Mexico, Peña Nieto has been trying to do his best in terms of getting reforms, which are considered accomplishments. But their content is being discussed and we have a lot of people who are opposed to the energy reform. So none of the three are in the best situation."

Each of the three nations has a differing domestic policy scenario, which is going to put pressure and different stress points on the aims, agenda emphasis and the results of this summit.

Protests dpa

Not everyone is pleased about NAFTA

Mexican fiesta?

Harping back to the figure of three, Professor Nuñez says that at this time, three factors favor Mexico. It's the host of this summit, it's developed as a pivotal partner in NAFTA and it's currently celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations with Canada. "My hope is that we Mexicans have been able to recognize this situation and see this as a great opportunity," although she acknowledges the topic of NAFTA, 20 years after the inception, is no longer so popular in either the United States or Canada.

"From my perspective, it's one of the most interesting aspects which is going to determine what comes next. We've been talking about NAFTA and trade. So what is next for the region in terms of coming together if we do want to become a very strong region. They have stressed prosperity. This concept will be one of the access points for discussions that they are going to have."

Energy is a key topic, but Mexico still has a lot of catching up to achieve parity in this sector. One exciting, recent key development involves Mexico's Congress voting to open up the petroleum industry for the first time in 75 years. Investment and exploration will now be permitted and should generate handsome profits, according to Elizabeth Gutierrez Romero, academic secretary of UNAM.

"I think that this reform has given great expectations. Big companies are very interested in the oil sector. But I think President Peña Nieto may want to talk more about trade and the commitment of his administration to follow their economic basis and to open up new markets, although I'm convinced that he has a lot of people working on the topic of investment in the oil industry."

TTIP or TPP?

Meanwhile, there have been suggestions that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - aimed at boosting economic growth in the US and the EU, potentially adding 13 million more jobs - might impinge on and dominate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) of which all three amigo nations are members of, plus leading Asian economies.

Ship MANUEL PEDRAZA/AFP/GettyImages)

Branching out to Europe and Asia

However, Elizabeth Gutierrez doesn't see it that way at all. "What I know is that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a big opportunity for the United States and this region because there are very dynamic Asian countries. There has been a big increase in American exports in this region. Not just for goods and investment, but also for services."

Gutierrez is determined to see a half full, rather than a half empty glass, saying that these two different agreements should be seen in terms of multi- and overlapping benefits. "Why not establish many trade agreements? What we can expect is to have many accords, and they will be complimentary."

The two experts attempt to put a positive spin on the best scenario which could come out of this all-to-brief get together in the chilly, high altitude of Toluca.

"I would like to hear the content and some actions related to prosperity. We do not currently have a clear picture. I am very optimistic that we might have two or three challenging new scenarios for the region. It would be wise if they come to terms regarding what sort of institutions the region needs to go further, for a deeper integration. We know that this is one of the missing issues that we have inherited from NAFTA. So this would be a good starting point to at least frame at least one institution which would articulate and pay attention to solve the most problematic issues we face in terms of making it more competitive," says Silvia Nunez.

Her colleague Elizabeth Gutierrez says a combined effort could deliver positive results. "What they have to show is a combined group understanding for advancement. I think it would be a good ambition for the three countries and for the region to try and solve problems. It would be great if they show how to do that."

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