Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed policies weren’t on the official agenda at the North American Leaders’ Summit, but his comments on trade and immigration dominated a press conference between the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico on Wednesday.
In the wake of a speech on the economy and trade Trump delivered on Tuesday, reporters from all three countries questioned the future of global trade. Protectionism was at the core of the business mogul’s argument, with calls to renegotiate or rip up global trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, scattered throughout his speech. At Wednesday’s press conference, President Obama argued against those policies, saying that though the “politics of trade are always difficult,” isolating ourselves should not be the solution.
“Ordinary people who are concerned about trade have a legitimate gripe about globalization,” Obama said, naming inequality and stagnant wages among the issues facing the middle class. But he said blaming globalization alone would be unfair, arguing that automation has “undermined” American workers more than outsourcing.
“You’re right to be concerned about the trends, but what you’re prescribing just won’t work,” Obama said, arguing instead for agreements like his oft-maligned Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he has said allows America and other countries to write the rules on trade. Cutting off trade, he said, “would make us all poorer.”
The U.K.’s decision to part ways with the European Union vote signaled danger for global trade and the global economy and rhetoric on the campaign trail in the U.S. has stoked feelings of nationalism as opposed to expanded globalization, which meetings like the “three amigos” summit represent. But all three leaders defended their plans to continue working forward together and sought to promote the strength of their partnership at Wednesday’s gathering.
But the perceived threat of globalization has also been attacked on the campaign trail in the form of anti-immigrant sentiment from the Republican Party’s likely nominee. Aside from trade, the Presidents of the U.S. and Mexico also found themselves discussing Trump’s prescription for America’s broken immigration system — a massive border wall that would align the country’s southernmost border.
Obama wrote off Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric as the ramblings of a demagogue, saying that at various points throughout American history those identified as the “other” were cast aside and kept out.
“The meaning of America is not to define ourselves by what we look like … but our adherence to a common creed. That all men were created equal,” Obama said. “We have observed those ideals imperfectly at times but at each successive generation we’ve gotten a little bit better at it.”
Obama added, “We should take some of this rhetoric seriously and answer it boldly and clearly, but you shouldn’t think that this representative of how the American people think.” The President also challenged the argument that Trump is a populist in a lengthy tirade, saying his policies align more with “xenophobia” and “nativism.”
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico said he would respect the election process, but warned of the dangers of demagoguery citing Adolf Hitler. It wasn’t the first time the Mexican leader had mentioned Hitler in regard to Trump, in March Peña Nieto likened Trump’s tone to the dictator’s.
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