17 February 2014

Paying a high price for insulting Mexico

In 2009, our government in its wisdom imposed stringent visa requirements on Mexicans visiting Canada, the harshest on any country. claiming this was necessary to deter increasing numbers of bogus refugee claimants. The complex and intrusive requirements included probing questions about potential visitors' families and their financial histories. The move was, and is, considered an insult by Mexicans and has chilled relations with their country. Mexican ambassador Francisco Suarez has referred to the visa as "a major irritant" that will cast a shadow over the festivities planned for the 2014 celebration of NAFTA's 20th anniversary.

The insult was difficult to understand. Mexico is after all our partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement which was supposed to open the participating countries to each other, not close them off. We do almost $30-billion annually in trade with Mexico. One might think that when dealing with a country that is so important to our economy, we could settle a problem without gratuitous and one-sided impositions.

Nor is it clear why the measure remains in place. Canada has revised its refugee policy since 2009 and a similar visa against Romania has since been removed. The U.S. uses an online system that provides almost immediate travel permission once travelers submit their basic data. It seems ridiculous that we have tougher requirements than the U.S. which has serious border and immigration issues with Mexico.

According to a report from the Canadian Council for Chief Executives, Canada's corporate elite, spending by Mexican tourists in Canada fell from $365-million in 2008 to $200-million in 2012. That's a $165-million a year penalty we are paying for our government's high-handedness.

A few weeks ago, our prime minister led a delegation of dozens of business people (plus a score of rabbis and a dozen preachers) to Israel, a country with which we do piddling trade, yet his government treats Mexico, the fifth largest market for our exports, with disdain. What strange economic idiocy is this?

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