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North American leaders vow to boost trade despite threats

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and US President Barack Obama walk together at the National Gallery of Canada at the start of the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa

Canada, the United States and Mexico on Wednesday vowed to deepen their economic ties, pushing back against anti-free-trade sentiment that has shifted political debate in the United States and Europe.

The three nations are member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to renegotiate or scrap if he wins November’s election.

US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Enrique Pena Nieto, meeting at a “Three Amigos” summit in Ottawa, said an efficient North American economy was vital for creating good-paying, middle-class jobs.

“We will build upon this strong trilateral economic relationship, and further facilitate trade among our three countries, and improve the networks that allow us to produce products and services together,” they said in a statement.

Trump says free trade has been disastrous, costing thousands of US jobs and depressing wages.

Similar complaints were heard in Britain ahead of a surprise referendum vote last week to leave the European Union and its free trade area.

Obama and Pena Nieto stressed the importance of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, which has come under strain amid heated US campaign rhetoric, and Obama invited the Mexican leader for a last visit to Washington before Obama’s term ends in January.

“Isolationism cannot bring prosperity to a society,” Pena Nieto said after talks with Obama.

Obama said their meeting comes at “a time when we are all too often hearing rhetoric that ignores the enormous contributions that have been made by Mexican Americans, and the enormous strengths that we draw from the relationship with our good neighbours to the south.”

Trump also opposes the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was signed in February but may not be ratified by the United States given increasing domestic resistance. Obama said on Wednesday he was committed to ensuring the pact contained high labor and trade standards.

The Ottawa summit, Trudeau’s first and Obama’s last, could be the final harmonious one between the three countries if Trump wins the White House.

One obstacle to free trade is the dumping of products at artificially low prices, and Trudeau, Obama and Pena Nieto said they agreed on the need for the governments of all major steel-making nations to address excess capacity.

Although they did not single out any country, the United States has acted several times to prevent dumping of some Chinese steel products.

The three are scheduled to hold a news conference at 3pm (1900 GMT). The leaders usually meet about once a year.

The trio will also discuss Britain’s vote to leave the EU, which wiped more than $2 trillion off global equity markets and dealt a huge blow to the EU.

The three have pledged to produce 50 per cent of their nations’ electricity from clean energy by 2025.

The North American countries plan initiatives including cutting power waste by aligning 10 appliance efficiency standards or test procedures by 2019, the White House said.

Obama is due to address the Canadian Parliament at 5.25 p.m. (2125 GMT).

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