Due to the pandemic, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday opened a new chapter in US diplomacy with virtual visits to Mexico and Canada in what has been billed as his first official trip.
Blinken’s meetings with Mexico and Canada, two of the United States’ largest trading partners, have covered economic ground as well as efforts to fight COVID-19, prompting the three countries to close their borders to all but essential traffic.
“I had the opportunity to make my first overseas visit with our important allies in Mexico and Canada,” Blinken said at a Friday afternoon press conference, “as you will noticed, we haven’t left the State Department.
The United States, under former President Donald Trump, had at times strained relations with its two neighbors, but Thursday’s effort appeared to be aimed at turning the page.
Blinken began virtual tours with Mexico, a country repeatedly denigrated by Trump, and stressed the importance of relations between the two countries under President Joe Biden.
“I wanted to ‘visit’, in quotation marks, Mexico first to demonstrate the importance that we attach, President Biden attaches, to relations between our countries,” Blinken told his counterpart, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. .
He also touched on immigration, a primary focus of the Trump administration, which has imposed a wide range of anti-immigration policies – a legacy Biden has strived to reverse.
Biden ended Trump’s policy of forcing asylum seekers to wait Mexico or to pursue their claims in Central America. It also restored protections for people without legal status in the United States who were brought to the country as children, many of whom are Mexican, and supports legislation that would allow them to apply for citizenship.
Excited to continue my visit today with our #FriendsPartnersAllies in Canada. There is much we can do to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, advance North America’s economic recovery, and meet the global challenge of climate change. pic.twitter.com/1hdfVW8SZr
– Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) February 26, 2021
Blinken, who previously took a virtual tour of the busy El Paso, Texas border crossing, said the administration was working with Mexico and countries in Central America to alleviate the conditions that push people to immigrate to first place. He also discouraged migrants from coming to the United States.
“For anyone considering taking this trip, our message is: don’t do it. We strictly enforce our immigration laws and border security measures, ”Blinken said.
“The border is closed to irregular migration,” he said.
The online meetings also touched on trade, climate change and security, a sign of Biden’s broader agenda with Mexico following his predecessor’s special focus on migration.
The three countries signed a revamped trade deal last year after Trump demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said during her meeting with Blinken that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sees the USMCA’s new North American trade deal as a major tool for post-coronavirus recovery and is willing to work with Biden to make supply chains more resilient to shocks like the pandemic.
In Canada, Blinken met his counterpart, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, who praised Biden’s commitment to “renewing US leadership and diplomacy.” The secretary then met privately with the Prime Minister Justin trudeau.
“Canadians and Americans have been affected by this pandemic and have suffered losses and face many challenges in this crisis,” Garneau said. “Now is not the time for our two nations to fold in on themselves,” he said.
Blinken echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “It’s hard to think of two countries whose destinies are more connected, more intertwined than ours.
“And we know that every day the work we do, but more importantly, the deep bonds between our people in virtually every aspect of our societies benefit both countries,” he said.