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Everything you need to know about the North American Leaders' Summit

Tensions between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are high. Will the 'Three Amigos' summit help?

President Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador meet Jan. 9 and 10, 2023, at the North American Leaders' Summit (NALS) in Mexico City. Here's everything you need to know about the summit:

What is the North American Leaders' Summit?

The NALS is the convening of the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. It is sometimes called the "Three Amigos" summit, referring to the "deep diplomatic and economic ties" between the nations, The Associated Press says. The meeting usually happens every year, but was put on pause during Donald Trump's presidency. At the meeting, the three heads of government will discuss trilateral issues that bind their nations, and try to resolve both lingering and emerging points of tension.

"We have a big agenda that ranges from the climate crisis to economic development and other issues," Biden said in a speech.

What are the main issues on the table?

The North American economy will be top of mind. "The pandemic and ongoing supply chain issues were a real wake-up call that the U.S. and its neighbors were too dependent on China," 
says NPR's Tamara Keith. "So part of what they're doing this week is setting the groundwork for these three nations to work together to bring back some of this manufacturing."

Concerns are growing over López Obrador's energy policies, which give control of the market to cash-strapped state energy companies. López Obrador claims the move is corrective, because prior governments "skewed the market in favor of private capital," Reuters explains. But the U.S. and Canada say the rules discriminate against their companies. López Obrador has made the policy "a cornerstone" of his presidency, Reuters adds, "making it hard for him to back down."

Trade tensions "will be the elephant in the room," Ryan Berg, the director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells NBC News. Mexico has floated a potential ban on imports of genetically-modified corn seeds from the U.S., which López Obrador claims are "a threat to [Mexico's] own ancient native corn varieties," BBC says. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has threatened legal action against the proposed ban.

Drug cartels will be a topic of discussion, too, as America continues to grapple with its opioid crisis. The synthetic opioid fentanyl, much of which comes into the country via Mexican drug cartels, was responsible for approximately two-thirds of U.S. overdose deaths in 2021. "We're going to continue to work with them in lockstep to see what we can do jointly to try to limit that flow," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

U.S.-Mexico border tensions will "cast a long shadow" over the summit, says Politico. Biden recently expanded the Trump administration's pandemic-era Title 42 rule, which allows border agents to turn away asylum seekers, many of which then get expelled to Mexico. 

Will progress be made?

"Signs of strain" are already showing, NPR's Keith says, adding that Biden and López Obrador "exchanged barbs of disagreement" as the summit began. Indeed, tensions "are already high and could sharpen," says Jake Colvin, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council.

Still, there's some cause for optimism. On trade tensions, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters there were "potential pathways forward. He added that Biden thinks he will secure "commitments for stronger cooperation" to tackle the fentanyl crisis. Regarding the energy spat, Trudeau was "confident of making progress," Reuters reports

"There's no obvious deal that satisfies all of their domestic interests," says Christopher Landau, U.S. ambassador to Mexico under former President Donald Trump, "but I think it's in all their domestic interest to say they get along."

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