Photo of Joe Biden

Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the North American Leaders' Summit (NALS)

November 17, 2021

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for your patience (inaudible) the call. Apologies for the delay.

Today's call is going to be on background to preview tomorrow's North American Leaders' Summit. The speakers will be attributed to as "senior administration officials" -- SAOs. The contents of this call are embargoed until 5 o'clock tomorrow morning, November 18th.

Our speakers today, in order, will be: [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official].

With that, [senior administration official], we'll turn it over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you. And thanks, everybody, for making the time.

A few brief points and then I'll provide an overview of some of the deliverables that we expect to be announced tomorrow.

So, the first point I want to make is that the President's hosting of the first North American Leaders' Summit since 2016 -- it's been five years -- is a culmination of 10 years [sic] -- 10 months of work to revitalize not just our bilateral relationships with our two most important -- two of our most important partners and our closest neighbors, but also, North America is a platform that is demonstrated by our response to the pandemic, efforts to revitalize the U.S. economy, address flows of migration.

And obviously, following the President's successful participation in Glasgow and the G20, North America is a platform that is critical to both our domestic economic success and -- as well as a partnership that can play a really critical role in resolving regional and global challenges.

Since day one, the Biden-Harris administration has reaffirmed the importance of these regional partnerships. President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken had their first bilateral meetings as President and Secretary of State, respectively, with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

The Secretary made his first virtual trip as Secretary to Canada and Mexico -- a signal of U.S. commitment to enhancing the bilateral relationships with our neighbors and to our broader Northern American relationship. Also, the Vice President was there in June. And so we've maintained a very active pace of engagement.

What you can expect tomorrow is that as we seek to deepen and expand our economic cooperation and security partnership with both countries, the President will also have separate bilateral meetings with each leader.

And during the summit, as was announced, the focus, really -- or the conversation is going to be on economic cooperation, specifically promoting a secure and prosperous North America; building upon our efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and promote global health security; and then, of course, our efforts to address the climate crisis; and then finally, one that my colleagues will speak to, which is a coordinated approach to migration management.

A few notes on just some of the deliverables: Look, the President of the United States first shared vaccines with Canada and with Mexico. With Mexico specifically, we've shared 10.9 million vaccines, which are 10 percent of the total stock of vaccines that they have.

Their leaders are going to reach an agreement whereby Canada and Mexico are going to share some of the vaccines that were part of a swap, and they're going to share those with the region. And we're going to have public health experts determine the timing and the amount and the types of doses so that we're working -- North America -- not just for our own wellbeing and competitiveness, but as a way to project in supporting our regional partners to come back from the pandemic stronger than before.

In addition, on the pandemic response front, there is a 2012 North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza. Our teams are at work to update that to reflect the current realities. And over the next year, we're going to be updating what has been a very comprehensive plan that has served us very well since -- from 2012 to the end of 2016.

And improve vaccine distribution in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as globally. And then, you know, support the health security agenda, including improving capacity and leadership to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats in the region.

On foreign competitiveness: The High-Level Economic Dialogue that took place a couple of months ago was one where we launched our first-ever bilateral supply chain working group; that was with Mexico. Now the leaders are going to actually start a North American supply chain working group that is going to look at -- with a goal to really define essential industries to minimize future disruptions, including work in areas like critical minerals.

A few others, just to highlight because it is a very, very long list: You know, consistent with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a reaffirmation to support strong labor rights protections. Trilaterally, the prohibition on the import of goods produced from forced labor.

But also, I would say on the climate side, a few elements to highlight is a North American pledge on methane and black carbon to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas sector by 60 to 75 percent by 2030; also a commitment to put forward ambitious nationally determined contributions -- the NDC enhancements -- in 2022; areas to accelerate technical cooperation on the development of renewables; and another whole host of areas.

But one also -- ones that recognize the importance of environmental justice by working to preserve the knowledge and practice of Indigenous and local communities via the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

So, finally, I would say that, you know, recognizing that our economic competitiveness is also an issue of equity and justice, having a pledge to create a North American partnership for racial equity and inclusion. Something that is a top priority for the President is a trilateral working group on violence against Indigenous women and girls.

And, you know, the list goes -- the list goes on.

And then just bilaterally, what I would say to finish and then turn to my colleagues, is that, again, to kind of underscore that what we've been doing over the last 10 months is to rebuild institutional relationships that were previously dormant.

These are relationships that really serve to accelerate momentum or maintain momentum on key priorities. It's also a space for our Cabinet Secretaries to break through obstacles and to engage constructively on areas of disagreement, which are going to exist with both governments, but creating these mechanisms so that we're actually working as the strategic partners that we are.

And that's been very successful as part of the U.S.-Canada Roadmap that was announced in March, these mechanisms like the High-Level Economic Dialogue, High-Level Security Dialogue that were launched with Mexico. And now, really, we're bringing that together to review the work that we've done, but also to set priorities for the year ahead.

I'll leave it there. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. [Senior administration official], over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. And hello, everyone.

You know, as [senior administration official] mentioned, of course, the NALS is really an opportunity for us to engage with our two neighbors on so many different priorities. But specifically on migration, you know, I think this is one of the impetuses for us to have it now, you know, just recognizing the unprecedented displacement that we're facing in the Western Hemisphere.

You know, our President -- President Biden -- really wants to engage with all leaders in the region on this and find bold, new solutions, you know, address it as a regional -- you know, a regional approach, but first and foremost with our two neighbors.

So, I think tomorrow is very important in terms of that -- to lock arms with Canada and Mexico; to, you know -- collectively, we're three of the top destination countries for migrants and asylum seekers in the region, and come up with a common approach.

I think what you'll find -- which is a bit of a shift, I think, from in the past -- is that the focus of the migration discussions are very much on what the three governments can do together outwardly in the region, you know, to address the root causes, to create more legal pathways, to increase access to protection, not so much about what's happening internally within North America.

So, I think that's a really exciting shift. And really, a lot of credit to Mexico. I think since 2016 -- the last time we've had this -- Mexico has really emerged as a -- you know, as a real destination country. They're the top -- they're, I think, the number three asylum country globally this year.

And so, what you'll see is a real focus on many of the things that we issued in our Root Causes and Collaborative Migration Management Strategy in July. We're really happy to see Mexico and Canada coming to the table and wanting to support a lot of those initiatives, not only in Central America, but throughout the hemisphere.

So, a focus on labor mobility, labor pathways, recognizing that all three of our countries actually have labor shortages in certain sectors and how can we match that with the many people out of work that are -- that's driving migration in many pockets of the Western Hemisphere; how can we expand access to resettlements and other protection pathways to all three of our countries; how can we collectively work on root causes, bring other donors to the table, work on job creation in countries that are -- we're seeing high outflows.

I think all countries see a huge priority in providing more protections to victims of trafficking and smuggling, and so, you know, looking to see how we can mobilize a stronger response to protect victims.

And, you know, I think there's going to be a lot of talk about how we then build off of the October 20th Ministerial in Bogota -- NALS -- tomorrow to launch something even bigger in the Western Hemisphere: how can we engage all the governments, all leaders of the Western Hemisphere as well as other key stakeholders to really grapple with, as I mentioned at the beginning, unprecedented displacement. You know, I think we're going to reach 6 million Venezuelans displaced in the next month or two.

So, you know, then we don't expect these displacement challenges to go away; we know this is a region that's impacted and will continue to be impacted by climate change. You know, we expect to see, you know, continuations of flows -- so how can we, you know, collectively look at the problems at hand and come up with humane and practical ways of managing migration throughout the hemisphere.

So, tomorrow is really just the beginning, I think, of a larger conversation with the rest of the region.

And now I will turn it over to [senior administration official] about how this fits in with our broader strategy on migration.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, [senior administration official]. Hey, everyone. So, this regional and hemispheric approach to migration is a central pillar of this administration's overall strategy on migration and border management that also includes addressing the conditions that forced migrants to leave their homes in the first place, making our asylum system fair and efficient, and deterring irregular migration.

So, we have seen throughout this past year that there are a number of unique push factors -- including COVID and its economic fallout, and climate change -- that have increased migration from throughout the region. And we've also seen that there are changing migration patterns that are not necessarily tied to seasonality, you know, that we've come to depend on in the past.

And so, to lay out our strategy to address these unique challenges, the White House released the "Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly, and Humane Immigration System" in July that outlines this administration's comprehensive approach to meet the challenge.

And we are making progress in a number of areas.

On the root causes work, as my colleague noted, this is obviously part of a hemispheric strategy. But this administration has already taken action to fund urgent humanitarian needs and food security, created an Anticorruption Task Force, engaged the private sector in making greater investments in the region, and launched several initiatives related to gender equity, employment opportunities, and entrepreneurship.

On asylum, we have reversed Trump policies that limited who is eligible for protection, stood up a dedicated asylum docket to adjudicate claims in under a year, and we're in the process of finalizing a new rule on asylum that would allow asylum officers to make determinations about asylum claims in the first instance in as soon as two months.

So, our work in the region and our work at the border are inextricably linked. The only way that we solve the challenge at the border is to address the challenge in region. And we look forward to working with our partners in the hemisphere on this collective endeavor.

And as my colleague said, tomorrow is just the start.

So, with that, I'll turn it back to the operator.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And with that, we're happy to open for questions.

Q: Hi, there. Thanks very much for doing this. Can you go back to the announcement on the vaccine? The original thing was that Mexico and Canada were essentially lent vaccines. Did I understand you correctly that Canada and Mexico would now essentially pay those back, but instead of to the U.S., to a fourth-party country, if you will, that's in a needier position than these three are?

And broadly, can you just talk about what you expect to come up in terms of fuel and energy? The U.S. and Canadian private sectors have raised alarm about energy reforms in Mexico. Will President Biden raise that with President López Obrador? And will President Biden discuss Line 5 with Prime Minister Trudeau? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. So, yeah, you are correct. So, there was a certain number of vaccines that the United States gave to both Canada and Mexico as part of a swap. There are also donations. And there was an agreement that they would pay those forward.

And so, the exact amounts will be in the millions. But I think the actual figure and the timing is something that will be determined just by our public health experts. And it's going to be part of this broader effort to also work on expanding manufacturing production capability and the supply chain resilience elements of pandemic preparedness.

Look, on the energy issue, what I will say is that the President has discussed this issue with both leaders -- the issues of energy and climate. He is expected to also discuss it with both leaders here. I can't get into particulars here.

But I do want to underscore that, after the -- the timing of the North American Leaders' Summit could not be better -- after the President having returned from Glasgow, the agreements secured at the G20, but more importantly, the signature of the Bilateral Infrastructure fund that is going to -- these $1.2 trillion that are going to set the United States on a strategic course that is really looking at a future where we have to be competitive in electric vehicles and, obviously, invest in a climate-friendly future.

For us, when we think about North America in that regard, it is as partners. And what we want to lay out are kind of the opportunities and the opportunity costs of certain decisions. And so, you know, we'll get into details of what we'll discuss. But certainly, it'll be something that will come up, as it -- as it has in the past.

Now on Enbridge -- Line 5, specifically -- what I say is: Because Canada has invoked the treaty, there's a limit to -- to what we can actually discuss. But what I'll say is that, you know, the President and the Prime Minister have an excellent relationship. They've known each other for a very long time. And they, you know, I think we're prepared discuss anything that the Prime Minister is ready to raise. Thank you.

Q: Yes, hello. Thank you. Other regional issues -- right now, Nicaragua and the sanctions -- what can we expect? Will that be an issue brought up to Mexico and Canada?

And Cuba -- anything on Cuba? Yunior Garcia suddenly appearing in Spain -- and Canada and Mexico as a conduit to any type of movement towards Cuba?

And one final point is: We're coming on the fifth anniversary of the Colombian peace agreement that the U.S. supports. Will that be part of the conversations? What do you expect on those three fronts?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, Juan Carlos. So, I expect that in the bilateral meeting and the trilateral meeting for there to be a long list of bilateral, trilateral, regional, and global issues.

Certainly, I think, as my colleague mentioned, migration is going to be a top priority, really maintaining the momentum of Glasgow to make sure that, as the North America bloc, it's something that we're making a priority. And there's a commitment among the three to promote the development of renewables.

And so, you know, I think we're prepared to discuss issues that range from Cuba, to Nicaragua, to Venezuela. I would note that the President yesterday issued a proclamation that bans entry into the United States of individuals that have been involved in the violations of human rights and the breakdown of democracy in Nicaragua into this country.

The -- when the United States also issued sanctions after -- on November 15th, we were kind of accompanied by the UK and Canada (inaudible). And it's something that, you know, I think the President feels very strongly that we need to be very active in promoting democratic aspirations with the Nicaraguan people.

Now, look, on Colombia, what I'll say is it may come up in this -- in this meeting; I can't say for sure. But what I know is that the President has talked with President Duque. They also talked while at Glasgow at a panel. And it's an area where President Biden has a long history with Colombia, and as somebody who's committed to peace in the country. And it's an issue we're going to continue to be actively engaged on.

Thanks.

Q: Thanks for taking the call. (Inaudible.) I wanted to ask (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry. I don't know about the others, but that really broke up, and I didn't get a lot of that. I don't have --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I didn't either.

Q: I'm so sorry. Can I try again?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think it's your connection; it's not your cold. The -- it was broken up a bit.

Q: Okay. Let me come over here. So, can you hear me better now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, go ahead.

Q: Okay. So, in the previous administration, you know, the White House (inaudible) point to tie economic policy (inaudible) --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We lost you again. Can maybe we go to the next question and then circle back if there's time? We can't hear the question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, let's do that. Operator, let's move on to the next question, please. And then, Colleen, we'll come back to you if maybe you want to try to find a better location.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I would like to know if you're planning to discuss about the reform of the electricity sector that President López Obrador wants to put in place to limit the share of private companies in the sector.

And also, I would like to know if also they are planning to discuss about the program "Remain in Mexico" that Biden's administration wants to reactivate in the coming weeks. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, Susana. So, look, we're prepared to discuss all matters of economic cooperation, including the energy space. And I would underscore here that, you know, we have -- as a product of the High-Level Economic Dialogue -- have, at the Cabinet level, really been engaging actively on all these sorts of issues.

And, you know, we're prepared where the two Presidents discuss it and -- you know, and then in follow-up meetings our Cabinet Secretaries will continue to discuss it.

But I'll say that we closely track Mexico's proposed energy reforms. And again, as I said at the beginning, given where the U.S. economy is going to be going over the course of this administration and the priority that this President has placed on addressing the climate emergency, it is an area where we see great opportunity to partner with both Canada and with Mexico.

But this is the direction that we're taking, and we hope that we have our two cou- -- two of our most important economic partners by our side.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can just jump in on your second question. You know, as I mentioned before, the focus of the migration pieces of the trilat and bilat are really going to be on the region and how we can collaborate together in general.

There's not a real focus, this time around, on our borders. And so, in terms of MPP or any other areas of cooperation, that's not going to be the subject of NALS.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would note, also -- this is [senior administration official] -- I think it was framed as the MPP that we (inaudible) to implement; this is ordered by a court, and so we're following a court order.

Q: Hi, everyone. Thanks for doing this. Over the past three months, we've seen a steady decrease in the number of migrants encountered along the U.S.-Mexico border. How much does the administration attribute that decrease to ramped-up Mexican immigration enforcement in the interior? And is that going to be a topic of discussion during?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The focus with our discussion -- our bilateral discussion with Mexico related to migration will be a lot on root causes not only in Central America but also in southern Mexico.

That, as you probably know, is a huge priority for the Mexican President as well as us. So, it's an area of real cooperation.

Of course, you know, we know that with Mexico and with all governments in the region, we have to find ways that we can collaborate on migration management, on enforcing our immigration laws. But as I mentioned, it's not actually one of the themes or focuses of tomorrow.

Q: Hi, I had a question about the "Remain in Mexico" program. You had just mentioned that it's not expected to be a major part of the conversation tomorrow, and you were kind of focused on more of a regional issue.

But, obviously, you know, in a court filing, the administration has said that negotiations are, you know, reaching a final stage, except for one outstanding issue. What is that outstanding issue?

And also, how do you plan to address this regionally if not talking about the "Remain in Mexico" program?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to mention, again, this won't be a subject of the conversation tomorrow. You know, we can't discuss details about negotiations or court filings or anything like that.

But just to note that, as my colleague mentioned, this is a court order that we're complying with in good faith. And so, you know, that's where we are on that.

MODERATOR: All right. Thanks, everyone. That concludes our call for today. A friendly reminder that we are on background, attributed to "senior administration officials," and the embargo will lift at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. Have a good evening.

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the North American Leaders' Summit (NALS) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353447

Simple Search of Our Archives