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Mexican president tells Biden migrants are key to growth in fight with China

U.S. President Joe Biden (C), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R), and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (L) (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged U.S. President Joe Biden to reduce North America’s imports and to loosen immigration restrictions in order to ease labor shortages.

The appeal from the Mexican president, known as AMLO, came during the first North American Leaders’ Summit since before the Donald Trump era, which was hosted by Biden at the White House on Thursday.

Biden didn’t respond to AMLO in front of reporters observing the beginning of the three-way meeting between him, his Mexican counterpart and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Supply chain pressures, migration and disputes over electric vehicles provided a backdrop to what was otherwise a closely scripted affair focused on economic recovery, the pandemic and climate resilience. Behind the choreographed shows of unity, though, were signs of pressure points.

Trudeau objected to proposed subsidies for electric vehicles and promoted an oil pipeline that Michigan’s government wants shut down. Lopez Obrador said the continent’s Pacific ports are “saturated with merchandise coming from Asia” and that Mexico, the U.S. and Canada should seek to build up their industrial bases to produce more goods domestically.

The Mexican president repeatedly promoted the idea of North American economic “integration,” without elaborating.

Surging U.S. demand for imports has led to breakdowns in the American supply chain, which economists believe is contributing to higher inflation.

AMLO also advised his counterparts to loosen barriers to migrant workers, an issue Biden had tiptoed around as he faces pressure from Republicans to crack down on the border.

“Migrants should not be rejected when growth requires a workforce that in reality is insufficient both in the United States and in Canada,” Lopez Obrador said. He said no U.S. president before Biden had expressed “such a clear and certain commitment to improve the situation of migrants.”

Unauthorized migration across the U.S. border with Mexico hit new records in the last year as people from Central America, Haiti and elsewhere fled violence, political turmoil, natural disasters and endemic poverty. The Biden administration has sought Mexico’s help in stemming the flow of migrants across the border, to little apparent effect.

U.S. officials downplayed border issues leading up to the summit, saying they’d instead focus on root causes of migration from Central America.

AMLO framed his economic proposals in terms of competition with China. Biden has frequently described the $550 billion infrastructure program he signed into law on Monday as a measure to put the U.S. on firmer footing as it confronts Beijing’s economic policies.

The Mexican president warned that if imports aren’t reduced, China will soon dominate the world’s economy. “That is not only unacceptably disproportionate in the economic terrain, it would also keep alive the temptation to try to resolve this disparity with the use of force, which would put all of us at risk,” he said.

The summit between the three leaders was the first since Trudeau hosted Barack Obama and Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico in 2016. Biden said before AMLO spoke that “we have to end the pandemic” and “take decisive action to curb the climate crisis.”

Trudeau, speaking between Biden and AMLO, agreed that the three nations’ highest priority is to end the pandemic and focus on the economic recovery and supply chains. “We are three countries with extremely strong ties between our people with our visions and values for the future strongly united,” Trudeau said.

The three men took no questions from reporters during their joint meeting.

Trudeau “raised Canada’s concerns with the United States’ proposed electric vehicle tax credits” while also stressing “the importance of Line 5,” the pipeline at the center of the dispute with Michigan, according to a statement from the Canadian leader’s office.

Biden touted U.S. progress on vaccines and the purchase, announced Thursday, of 10 million courses of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 antiviral pill. Mexico and Canada also were poised to announce a donation of vaccines to needy nations in the region, framed as repayment of an earlier “loan” of doses from the U.S.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each met separately with Lopez-Obrador and Trudeau before the three leaders held a joint session in the East Room of the White House.

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