Canada's decision to require visas for all visiting Mexicans has become a "major point of contention" with repercussions for businesses working in both countries, the head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives says.
John Manley said Canada is working against its own interests by maintaining the visa, and should at least make it easier for Mexicans to obtain the documentation. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto next week, and will be joined by U.S. President Barack Obama for a trilateral meeting on Feb. 19.
Canada began requiring visas from Mexicans in 2009, saying it was necessary to help deter illegitimate refugee claimants. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Manley said he does not understand why the restrictions have remained in place, even after Canada's refugee rules were tightened.
"It's become a major point of contention with potential business contacts, investors and others in Mexico," Mr. Manley said. "… I just think we've handled this in a way which has gone beyond the requirements of security to the point that we have really acted contrary to our own interests, both from the point of view of business development as well as tourism."
The Mexican government has previously suggested several ideas for Canada to ease the restrictions, such as fast-tracking visas for Mexicans who have already been approved to spend time in the United States. A spokeswoman for Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander said the government is monitoring the situation and wants to reassure "genuine visitors" that they are welcome in Canada.
Mr. Manley said a lack of movement on the four-year-old restriction could be part of the reason he hasn't heard much about a business delegation accompanying the Prime Minister when he travels to Mexico for meetings next week. Last month, Mr. Harper brought a delegation of more than 200 people on his trip to Israel, including members of Israeli community groups, religious groups and businesses with interests in Israel.
A spokesman for Mr. Harper said Mexico is an important trading partner for Canada. He said it was too soon to say who would be travelling to Mexico with Mr. Harper, but noted that some businesses are expected to take part. "While details of the trip are still being finalized, we expect that some stakeholders will in fact be taking part," Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail. "We'll be in a position to confirm details once they are finalized."
"Mexico is an important trading partner for Canada and we look forward to a productive meeting, and to sharing more details of the trip, its focus and the delegation that will be joining the Prime Minister once those details are confirmed," Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail.
But Mr. Manley questioned how a Canadian delegation might be received. He noted that British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg brought dozens of British business leaders on a recent trip to Mexico. "You know, such a delegation would not be warmly received right now, by the Mexicans, were it coming from Canada," he said.
Andrés Rozental, a former deputy foreign minister for Mexico, and co-editor of a book on Mexico-Canada relations, said the visa restrictions have hindered a large number of Mexican business and leisure travellers from visiting Canada. He added that the restrictions may also be hurting Canadian tourism businesses such as airlines and hotels.
"The people who were depending on Mexican tourism, whether it was to Canada or through Canada, have been hit very hard," he said.
Mr. Manley said Canada should take advantage of the opportunity to work with a Mexican government that has big ideas about the future of the North American economy. Mexico recently liberalized its energy market, allowing foreign investors to play a role in its significant oil and gas sector.
"This is a historic opportunity with Mexico," Mr. Manley said. "It shouldn't be overlooked and it shouldn't be allowed to slip away."