North America

The United States’ foreign policy strategy towards its neighbors to the north and south has seen dramatic shifts under the Joe Biden administration. President Biden began rekindling the relationships between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that had become fraught under President Donald Trump immediately after taking office.

The U.S.-Canada Relationship

His first call to a foreign head of state was to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the two leaders held their first bilateral meeting in early March 2021. In the virtual meeting, Biden claimed that the U.S. has “no closer friend” than Canada — a symbolic message to the historical and cultural ally.

Prime Minister Trudeau welcomed the new administration and pledged to collaborate “to advance climate action and clean economic growth.” Enhancing environmental protections is an issue that both leaders have campaigned on, but diplomatic tensions between the two countries arose when Biden ordered work on the Keystone XL pipeline to stop in his first day in office — a controversial project that has received criticism from environmental and human rights groups for years. The executive order to curb the pipeline spanning from Alberta to Nebraska was a sucker punch to Canadian oil interests and could weaken the Canadian economy. 

Despite this initial blow to American-Canadian relations, PM Trudeau acknowledged that issues, such as the pipeline, will “always come up in [the] relationship, but we’ll work through them.” This optimism signals a shift in rhetoric between the two countries, marking a departure from fraught tensions during the Trump era of the past four years. The U.S. should soon expect a return to the diplomatic status-quo with Canada.

A Shift in U.S.-Mexico Relations

President Biden has also re-engaged with Mexico, pledging action on the immigration and trade issues stalled under President Trump.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called for Biden to approve a bracero-style program to regulate the migratory flows between the two nations. The brancero system was implemented after World War II and guaranteed decent wages and living conditions for Mexicans who wanted to work in the U.S. Biden campaigned on reforming the immigration system, and this program would be a step toward his vision. 

Vaccine distribution amid the COVID-19 pandemic will also be a distinctive issue between the two countries in the coming months. Mexican President Lopez Obrador has repeatedly called on wealthier nations to share their vaccines with poorer nations, and has even proposed a “vaccine loan” for Mexico to receive American COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. has begun the undertaking to inoculate its 126 million residents with the American-produced Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Biden acknowledged this inequity between the two countries but maintained that his first priority will be the vaccination of Americans. 

Biden seeks to refocus and recenter the turbulent relationship with Mexico left by Trump — and scarred by anti-immigrant and at-times derogatory rhetoric. Trump’s campaign in 2016 capitalized on these sentiments and characterized Mexico and Mexican people in negative terms. This sentiment carried over into his administration and fostered a turbulent relationship with the southern neighbor.

Notably, the Trump administration focused little on Mexico’s homicide rates, transnational criminal activities such as drug trafficking groups, rule of law and justice system reforms. Trump also focused very little on previous progress attempted to be made under former President Barack Obama, such as environmental regulations and protection, education and police reform and quality of democracy in the country. Biden will likely seek to rekindle shared cooperation and action on these issues.

Though migration will be the primary challenge for the Biden administration in progressing its relationship with Mexico, these other key areas are cause for attention — especially amid a global pandemic and economic downturn.

North American Trade

Finally, American trade policy between both Canada and Mexico will likely not change drastically during the Biden administration. According to the U.S. Department of State, Canada and the U.S. enjoy a unique relationship — forged by shared geography, similar values, common interests — and enjoys the world’s “most comprehensive trading relationship.” Similarly, Mexico, by virtue of its shared geography, common border and shared historical ties, is the U.S.’ second largest trading partner and second largest export market after Canada.

President Trump renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — now called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), last year and all three countries have ratified the new trade deal. This new agreement is a rare point of unison between the two presidential administrations, as Biden has signaled his support of “NAFTA 2.0.”

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