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Updated: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:35:27 GMT | By The Canadian Press, cbc.ca

Harper calls Mexico trade 'unbalanced' ahead of Three Amigos summit



Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as he arrives at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico on Tuesday, Feb.18, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as he arrives at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico on Tuesday, Feb.18, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada needs to do more to close its trade deficit with Mexico while attracting more investment from its southern neighbour.

Harper made the remarks today at the start of a meeting with Canadian business leaders in Mexico City before meeting with Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

The two leaders are expected to oversee the signing of a number of agreements improving business links between the two countries.

He says that while the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement has fostered commercial growth between the two countries, there are still wrinkles to iron out.

Harper meets later today with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in a warm-up of sorts for Wednesday, when the two join U.S. President Barack Obama at their North American leaders' summit.

The two countries will be signing an expanded airline access agreement that would allow Mexican airlines greater access to more cities in Canada, and Canadians more direct flights to Mexico. He comes armed with a plan that could pave the way for getting rid of his host's biggest complaint about Canada — a visa requirement for Mexican visitors.

Trade deficit

Before that deal is signed, however, Harper — who is in Mexico to mark the 20th anniversary of NAFTA — took time to outline some of the trade inequities that exist between the two sides.

"It's a very unbalanced relationship," Harper said.

"Trade flows have gone up enormously, but mostly on the Mexican side. Investment flows have gone up enormously, but almost entirely on the Canadian side. So we probably want to take a look at what we can do to grow some of those things more in a more balanced way."

In 2012, Canada imported $25.5 billion from Mexico while Canada exported about $5.4 billion to Mexico, the Prime Minister's Office said.

The expanded air access agreement is likely to be a precursor to the Conservative government eventually lifting the controversial visa it slapped on Mexican travellers in 2009 to combat an increase of bogus asylum seekers.

Visas a major irritant

Harper isn't expected to announce a lifting of the visa this week, but the two countries are hopeful the issue can be ironed out in the coming months.

The Mexican government has complained loudly and publicly about the visa requirement, which it says is invasive, time-consuming and to blame for a major decline in Mexican visitors to Canada.

The powerful Canadian Council of Chief Executives has urged Harper to lift the visa, or at least simplify it with a less onerous on-line process that would be similar to the standard to which the United States subjects Mexican applicants.

On Monday, Harper kicked off his visit by placing a wreath at the Altar of the Nation, Mexico's principal war memorial in Chapultepec Park.

The main event of the trip is Wednesday's one-day summit between the three leaders. Mexico has been pushing for a major reset of the so-called Three Amigos summit process.

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