Amid globalization backlash, Obama to push North American cooperation

Climate change will be a central theme when the US president arrives in Canada on Wednesday for the North American Leaders' Summit.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Obama smiles as he arrives at the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa on Wednesday.

As anti-globalization sentiment roils the politics of Europe and the United States, President Obama is heralding plans for new cooperation among the North American countries.

Canada is convening the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa, where Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Climate change is high on the agenda. The three are expected to announce a North America-wide partnership to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by setting a common goal of powering 50 percent of North America's electricity with renewable energy sources by 2025, up from 37 percent today, according to The New York Times.

In the United States, that means speeding up a shift from coal. Coal-fired plants account for a third of the nation's electricity, compared to almost half a decade ago, reported NPR.

But the goal is considered an ambitious one even by the White House. Fossil-fuel interests are well-entrenched in both the US and Canada, where oil and gas production is an important source of revenue and jobs, particularly in Alberta.

Those interests may also be gaining in clout in Mexico after a 2014 energy reform opened the nation's oil resources to extraction by foreign firms. Low prices have yielded disappointing short-term results for the law's architects. But the US Energy Information Administration predicted in 2014 that the reform could increase Mexico's long-term oil production by 75 percent.

Ahead of the summit, Canada and Mexico also announced new bilateral measures to reduce barriers between the two countries. Canada is lifting visa requirements for Mexican visitors starting in December 2016, while Mexico will open its markets to Canadian beef.

The meeting comes less than a week after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has also stepped up his criticisms of the US's stake in global trade deals. On Monday, Mr. Trump threatened to pull out of the two-decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement and vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country pact that has yet to take effect, if he is elected.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau warned against protectionism in trade. "Better collaboration, better partnerships are a path to prosperity," he said. "And that's a compelling example that we want to showcase at a time where, unfortunately, people are prone to turning inwards which will unfortunately be at the cost of economic growth and their own success."

Those warnings would undoubtedly ring hollow for many. As Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor writes in the first of a five-part series on free trade, the globalization of industry has produced lasting decline in some areas of the US:

More than a decade after opening their doors to Chinese goods, many Americans have endured unemployment or low pay for longer than anyone expected, widening the gap between rich and poor. Except for Mr. Trump on the right and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont on the left, presidential candidates who lambasted recent trade deals, the political establishment by and large has yet to grasp the enormity of the problem.

Only now has the nation begun to show signs of finding an economic equilibrium after the economic shock of China trade.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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