It's being called the Three Amigos summit as the three leaders of North America - our President Barack Obama, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper are convening in Guadalajara, Mexico Monday.
On their agenda are important issues like free trade, the drug war, immigration, the swine flu and the environment. But this three-way meeting isn't likely to result in any earth-shattering news.
Here are five questions I wish they could answer.
1) How can they help Mexican farmers who've lost their farming income due to NAFTA and migrate to the United States to work?
2) Should Mexican truckers ever be allowed to drive in the United States?
3) Will $1.4 billion in funding really solve the drug war?
4) Could we ever imagine a type of North American Union (like the European Union) where people from Canada could go work in the United States or Mexicans could freely migrate to Canada or Americans could work in either country?
5) Should we really be so afraid of the H1N1 swine flu?
1)Known as the North American Free Trade agreement, (NAFTA) opened up
trade between the three nations in 1994. But it has not come without
some serious repercussions especially for working class Mexicans.
In the 15 years since NAFTA was signed, more than six million Mexicans
have migrated to the United States. Many of them come from rural areas
and worked in agriculture like the corn farmers I interviewed back in
2001 when I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
"Free trade is threatening us and our way of life," said Jose Pedro
Mariano, 59, his face weather-beaten from years of working his
cornfields nestled beneath the Pico de Orizaba volcano in the state of
Mariano looked out at the 20 acres that his grandfather fought for
during the Mexican Revolution and wondered whether he would be able to
sell all of his harvest come fall.
NAFTA has not helped farmers like Mariano. American corn floods the
Mexican market making it hard for them to make a living. It is in part
responsible for increased migration north. Something has to change to
give Mexicans more economic opportunity at home.
During the campaign, Obama said he would press for new environmental
and labor regulations on NAFTA but it looks like he may be waffling on
those promises, according to recent blog posts.
2) The Mexican government is upset that the United States still hasn't
allowed Mexican truckers to drive into the interior of the United
States as was promised under NAFTA. The Teamsters say the Mexican
truckers don't drive safe vehicles and they worry about a loss of jobs
for U.S. truckers.
While reporting on this issue at the border, I saw how Mexican trucks are inspected
at the border by U.S. officials. I also interviewed the owner of a
professional trucking company who said the safety concern is overblown.
"It is discrimination at its rawest form and it is nothing else but
discrimination. The Teamsters have nothing to worry about," said
Elizabeth Flores, the mayor of Laredo when I interviewed her back in
Flores said the safety issue has been blown out of proportion in the
border region, where more than half the population works in jobs
related to the trucking industry.
President George W. Bush couldn't solve the trucking dispute and President Obama will have a hard time standing up to the Teamsters. As a result of the ban, Mexico has
imposed more than $2 billion in tariffs on American products, which
then seems to defeat the purpose of NAFTA to begin with.
Mexico is the United States' third-largest trading partner, and Canada
is the first. They need to find a way to make free trade fairer.
3) The United States pledged $1.4 billion dollars to help Mexico fight
drug trafficking with the Merida Initiative, which was signed into law
under former President George W. Bush.
About a third of the money has been appropriated, and Mexico is
starting to complain that the United States has been slow to move
forward with all the funding.
Part of the holdup is that Mexico needs to meet certain human rights
conditions to get some of that money. But there are reports that the
Mexican army has engaged in torture and other abuses in fighting the
drug war. This could hold up the funding as some members of Congress
oppose the alleged human rights abuses.
Drug trafficking is a problem that both nations should take
responsibility to solve. Traffickers in Mexico make and sell the drugs
and consumers in the United States buy them.
I'm still not convinced we should give Mexico $1.4 billion to fight
drugs. I think it would be better to give them economic support to help
create jobs at home so poor farmers don't have to migrate north and
leave their families behind or worse become low-level players in the
The drug war is serious but I would like to see both governments and
the media pay more attention to economic development in Mexico. I'm
tired of watching breathless journalists on television rant about the
drug war spilling over into the United States. They are fomenting more
fear instead of comprehensively reporting on Mexico.
4) This idea to have a single currency and free flow of people in North
America was once proposed by former Mexican President Vicente Fox and
he was slammed by his critics as loco for suggesting it.
But the world never imagined the European Union would work as well as
it did and that countries with weaker economies like Poland or Hungary
would be able to integrate fully. Now there are more than 27 countries
in the European Union and it hasn't resulted in a chaos of cultures or
a political meltdown. And look at how strong the Euro is as a currency.
A type of North American Union or Community is not a conspiracy for foreigners to take over the United States as the right-wing wants you to think.
This idea may be a long way off, and Mexico needs a stronger economy
for this to ever work. But it's something I'd like to see the North
American leaders consider.
Yes this is a serious health risk but we don't need to be alarmed about it.
They are working on a vaccine. Reports show as many as 100 million
doses should be available by mid-October, and it is recommended that
children and pregnant women get it first.
Some are raising concerns about possible health risks and an old 60
Minutes story is now circulating on the Internet. It was a 1979 story
on 300 deaths allegedly resulting from a swine flu vaccine given out in
You could be at risk if you don't get the vaccine, and you could be one of the few to have a possibly dangerous reaction if you do get it.
I don't have all the medical answers but I just wish the government
officials would put this illness and any health risk associated with a
vaccine into better context so people can stop panicking about it.