Canada Lifts Mexico Visa Rule in Exchange for Beef Access

  • Travel restrictions to end Dec. 1 after seven-year dispute
  • Pena Nieto praises Trudeau’s commitment to inclusion

Canada will end restrictions on Mexican travelers while its North American partner opens its market further to Canadian beef.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto made the announcement during a state visit Tuesday in Ottawa, ahead of the Three Amigos summit Wednesday that includes U.S. President Barack Obama. Canada will lift its visa requirement for visitors from Mexico on Dec. 1, with the countries pledging to monitor refugee claims that prompted the restriction seven years ago.

“Since 2009, this barrier has been set. But today, thanks to great political will, we are overcoming such a barrier,” Pena Nieto said. “We’re here to renew the relationship Canada and Mexico have and we’re clearing our way.”

Amid fallout from the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and the protectionist, anti-immigration presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the Canadian and Mexican leaders stood united in advocating for open economies, open borders, and strengthened global ties. Both also pledged to work with whoever wins the U.S. election in November.

“In a world where hate speech, racism and discrimination still persist, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government stands out for his commitment to inclusion,” Pena Nieto said. “Canada and Mexico are fully convinced that international trade and regional integration are the main powerhouses of shared economic growth and social well-being.”

Twin Victories

Trudeau campaigned in Canada’s election last year on “immediately” lifting the Mexico visa restriction. Both countries are still working on how to implement the change, the prime minister said Tuesday. Mexico, which currently allows imports only of certain beef products, will “open its domestic market to all Canadian beef” beginning Oct. 1, Trudeau said.

Pena Nieto said more than C$2.3 billion ($1.8 billion) in Canadian investments in Mexico were announced during his visit, without specifying industries or companies involved. The countries signed 14 agreements, including ones boosting student exchanges, promoting the well-being of indigenous peoples and bolstering tourism, Pena Nieto said.

“I believe the future of Canada-Mexico relations is bright,” Trudeau said. Co-operation and strengthening ties “are a path to prosperity and that’s a compelling example we want to showcase at a time where unfortunately people are prone to turning inwards.”

Refugee Claims

The visa issue in particular had been a source of tension between the two North American Free Trade Agreement partners. It was imposed to stem a spike in asylum claims, which rose from 3,400 in 2005 to 9,400 in 2008, by which point Mexicans accounted for one quarter of all Canada’s refugee claims.

Both countries will collaborate to boost travel while “preventing any increase in asylum claims or other irregular migration,” according to a written statement released by Trudeau’s office. It didn’t specify any new restrictions on refugee claims and said officials would meet regularly to assess progress.

Erik Hertzberg/Bloomberg

Canadian beef exports -- valued at C$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion) globally in 2015 -- currently face restrictions in Mexico, which largely allows products only from animals under 30 months of age, according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. Canada has long pushed to reopen market access for its beef after the country’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, crisis in 2003.

Mexico is “in the final stages of its due diligence to achieve full normalization of beef trade” by the October deadline, Trudeau’s office said in a written statement.

‘Hugely Valuable’

Tuesday’s announcement was a surprise, according John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the cattlemen’s association. He expects it to help Canadian herd sizes rebound and projects beef exports to Mexico will grow to C$250 million annually from roughly C$135 million now.

“We’re sure glad to have this over the finish line finally,” he said. “This is going to be hugely valuable in the long-run for Canadian beef farmers.”

Negotiations on the beef and visa issues had been going on for years, according to Adam Taylor, who served as an adviser to former Trade Minister Ed Fast. The previous Conservative government made a push three years ago for a similar deal, but was concerned about bogus refugee claims spiking if the restriction was lifted.

Mexico was “one of the last major markets” to leave restrictions in place after the mad-cow crisis, said Taylor, who now works for Ottawa-based lobbying firm Ensight Canada. Mexico was similarly pushing Canada to end the visa requirement. “Each side had to give to get, and that’s exactly what the trade-off was always going to be,” he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE