THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: Okay, I think everybody is here. Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s on-the-record virtual briefing. I’m Jean Foschetti, and I’m pleased to welcome our briefer, Jon Piechowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State. Today he will provide a readout of Secretary Blinken’s virtual trip to Canada and Mexico. This unique virtual trip, which took place last Friday, February 26th, was a sign of the commitment by the United States to its relationship with these two countries.
A quick review of the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. We will post the transcript of this briefing on our website, fpc.state.gov, after the event. If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, we would appreciate you sharing a link with your story by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deputy Assistant Secretary Piechowski will give opening remarks and then we will open it up for questions. If you do have a question, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand. At that time, we will unmute you and request you turn on your video so you can ask your question. If you wish to be on camera for the entire briefing, please go ahead and turn on your camera now. And last and most important, if you have not already done so, please rename your Zoom profile with your full name and name of your outlet so we can know who is asking questions.
And with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Piechowski.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Thank you very much, Jean. Good morning to everyone. Buenos dias, bonjour. It’s a pleasure for me to speak to you today about Secretary Antony Blinken’s trip, virtual trip, to Canada and Mexico, which, as Jean said, took place last Friday, February 26th. I think this conversation we’re having today comes just after, I think, a seven-day period where the United States relations with Canada and Mexico took center stage, and the virtual trip I think showed the many ways our countries are bound together and the common opportunities we have as well as the common challenges we face.
I’d like to provide a quick recap of this virtual visit, which, as I said, I think spanned not only the government-to-government relations but also the people-to-people relations and the public diplomacy ties that our countries share.
Secretary Blinken began his virtual visit to Mexico, and he started that with a virtual tour of the El Paso Paso del Norte border crossing between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. This visit highlighted our ongoing cooperation with Mexico to ensure legal, humane, and safe immigration processing at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the law enforcement and border security operations that are there that seek to interdict shipments of drugs as well as promote travel or promote commerce between the two countries given how important our commercial ties are. One of the things the Secretary addressed is that the border is not open except for essential travel. People should not go to the border to attempt to enter the United States right now.
After that tour, the Secretary held productive meetings with Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier to discuss a broad range of topics, including migration, such as the wind-down of the migrant protection protocols; combating COVID-19 and fueling economic recovery; enhanced economic integration, including through the USMCA implementation; as well as security, climate change, and other topics.
After that, the Secretary participated in a town hall with the staff of U.S. Mission Mexico, which not only encompasses our embassy in Mexico City but also consulates all along the U.S.-Mexico border and in key cities in Mexico.
After that, Secretary Blinken took his virtual trip north to Canada, where he met with both Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Garneau. After the Secretary’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, Secretary Blinken discussed – sorry. After President Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, Secretary Blinken discussed the United States and Canada’s common approach to global challenges such as COVID-19 and our efforts to our revitalize our economy, as well as our commitment to bold action on climate change, defending human rights around the globe, and bolstering our shared defense and security.
During his visit to Canada, Secretary Blinken also expressed appreciation for our U.S. Mission Canada employees. Again, in a testament to our broad relations with Canada, we not only have an embassy in Ottawa but consulates throughout Canada in Canadian cities that really work to strengthen the commercial ties, the people-to-people ties, and the security ties that bind us.
Secretary Blinken also had an opportunity to meet with Canadian students to discuss climate change and the United States and Canada’s shared priorities in the Arctic.
This visit really laid the groundwork for our continued robust and regular engagement with our North American neighbors. Our three countries will be in close communication to find a way for our economies to continue their recovery in a manner that is safe for everyone as we respond to COVID-19, which is the challenge of our times. We’re very proud of our successful efforts to date to maintain critical supply chains and keep our borders open to essential travel. This has allowed trade to continue flowing between our countries all the while prioritizing the health and safety of our citizens.
Following up on President Biden’s and Secretary Blinken’s meetings, the United States is committed to working together with Mexico to implement a comprehensive approach to regional migration that includes addressing the root causes of irregular migration in the region, promoting trade and investment to the benefit of our peoples, and improving security cooperation. Hopefully all of you saw President Biden’s – saw the joint declaration between the United States and Mexico following President Biden’s March 1st meeting with Mexican President Lopez Obrador. It outlined our bilateral commitment to immigration policies that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of orderly, safe, and regular migration, joint efforts to address the root causes to improve migration management and to develop legal pathways for migration, as well as collaboration to respond to COVID-19, to use the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as a driver for North American prosperity and labor rights, and restarting the high-level economic dialogue and tackling the climate crisis.
Lastly, I just want to say on Canada, through the U.S.-Canada Partnership Roadmap, the United States looks forward to working closely with Canada to respond to COVID-19 and support inclusive economic recovery, address the pressing challenge of climate change including through the launch of the high-level climate ministerial, strengthening economic ties and building back better our supply chains and energy infrastructure, promoting defense through NATO and NORAD, and exploring cross-cutting issues related to continental security, economic and social development, and Arctic governance to the launch of an expanded U.S.-Canada Arctic dialogue.
Our democratic values, cultural ties, and interconnected economies make the United States, Canada, and Mexico natural partners, and we look forward to building on those partnerships in the months ahead.
With that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. If you have a question, you can use the raise-hand feature or use the chat.
Okay. Isabella, you may go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Isabella Gonzalez, reporter from Latinus in Mexico, and I want to ask Jon if the United States Government asks Mexico something related with the new electric reform that Mexico approved this night?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Well, thank you, Isabella, for the question, and hello. Well, when it comes to energy, of course, both of our countries have very connected economies and energy sectors. And so we have heard concerns, I think, from the private sector, and at the same time we respect Mexico’s sovereignty and the process that Mexico is undergoing right now.
I would say that we believe that transparency is very important for investors, and we look forward to continuing cooperation and continuing discussions with Mexico and all sectors where our economies are connected. Thank you.
MODERATOR: For our next question, we’ll go to one of the submitted questions because I don’t believe he was able to join today, and it’s from James McCarten of the Canadian Press. He asked: “Did Secretary Blinken provide Canada any assurances regarding the issue of the Line 3 and Line 5 pipeline projects? And is the State Department involved in any current reviews of these projects given that they cross the Canada-U.S. border?”
MR PIECHOWSKI: Thank you for that question. I think this question shows again the interconnectedness between our economies. When it comes to energy and energy transportation, the United States is working very closely with Canada. We’re having discussions that are looking at all of the facets of energy, not only our energy security, but also our responsibilities to climate change as our countries really try to build energy production that really meets our commitments to addressing climate change. So that is all part of our robust and multifaceted dialogue that’s going on between Canada and the United States.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Our next question is from Emir Olivares. Please, go ahead and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi, good morning.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Hello.
QUESTION: Mister, what is the estimation on the immigration topic and what will the – what will be the collaboration on this from Mexico?
MR PIECHOWSKI: I’m sorry. Did you ask what will be —
QUESTION: The expectation on immigration topic, and what – what is the Mexican collaboration?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Okay. Well, thank you for that question. I mean, I think it is clear – I think the United States has been clear that we believe that the way to confront irregular migration is going to involve a number of countries really dealing with a number of aspects. One part is border security. Countries, I know, want to ensure that their borders are safe and secure. I think we also need to ensure that there are legal pathways for those seeking to migrate. I think we also have to look at capacity for processing asylum. That is, I think, incumbent on countries that have made commitments there.
And then I think the last piece, and most important piece, really, is what I said in terms of our commitment to work together to address the root causes of migration. When people are seeking better economic opportunities, when they’re seeking safer communities in which to raise their children, I think it shows that all of us have work to do. The United States is committed not only to working with governments in the region, but with the private sector, civil society organizations, and our international organization partners too, to really to work and to address this. Because I think it’s important for us to remember that when people leave their communities, their countries, their homelands, their native language, the tastes and smells that they’ve grown up with – when they leave all of those things behind, they’re really, I think, signaling that they they’re looking for something better. And I believe that with our cooperation with Mexico and with countries in Central America and elsewhere, we can help restore hope for people so that they can prosper at home. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Our next question comes from Alexander Panetta with CBC. Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Hi. Just had a couple of questions about different asks that Canada would have on some of the issues you’ve brought up. One is on migration and the other is on energy cooperation. So basically, on migration, the one thing Canada has been hoping to do for the last couple of years is have a conversation about upgrading the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. so that it applies to crossings at irregular border checkpoints. So I’m – so A, I’m wondering whether there’s any consideration about upgrading that Safe Third Country Agreement with Canada.
And on energy cooperation, I guess the big request from Canada these days is whether it’ll be – I mean, if it’s an energy partner, would it be subjected to Buy American provisions in clean energy legislation that the administration hopes to see pass Congress? So those are the two things that I’m wondering.
- PIECHOWSKI: Well, thank you for those questions. Again, I think the questions you pose really stand – really show the connections between the United States, between our thousands of miles of border, which are not defended, of course, and largely very peaceful border checkpoints. I don’t have any news to make here or any updates to provide on Safe Third Country agreements. I know that the border and operations at the border remain a veryimportant area of discussion between our two countries, especially right now with the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of different Buy American provisions, we’ve heard these questions posed with respect to a recent executive order that President Biden signed. The United States has long had a variety of Buy American provisions. At the same time, we know we have – there are WTO procurement commitments, and government procurement is at the end of the day a very complex process. I think that the robust supply chains that currently exist between the United States and Canada will continue to be robust, and we’ll work with our partners in Canada on all of the different issues that come up, whether we’re talking market access, procurement regulations, or whatever we may find. I think the past has shown that the dynamic economic relations between our countries gives us a great base to build upon. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Our next question goes to Bricio Segovia. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Jon. Thank you for doing this. I appreciate it. Bricio Segovia with Mexico’s MVS Radio. I have two questions if I may. I’ll ask the first one first. So President Lopez Obrador met with President Joe Biden and he made very clear that two of the proposals that he wanted to put on the table was, number one, a Bracero-style immigrant labor program to bring legal immigration from Mexico and Central America to the U.S.; and a second proposal was actually – well, let’s start with this proposal actually. Is that something that the Department of State has considered, even – I mean, either during those – that meeting, that virtual trip with Secretary Ebrard? And oh, by the way, the other proposal was the possibility of sending vaccines to Mexico. Is – are those proposals something that has come up in conversations at the Department of State during that visit or after that? Because the White House didn’t mention – didn’t make any mentions to those proposals from President Obrador.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Okay. Well, thank you. Well, as I said, when we are talking about – when the United States is talking about confronting irregular migration, we are really looking at trying to find a broad-based approach. I mentioned expanding legal pathways, so that is something we will look at. I’m not sure what will come and exactly what style of an initiative there will be.
But beyond that, we are looking and talking to Mexico about ways that we can work together to address those root causes, those drivers of migration, the lack of economic opportunity, citizen insecurity, all of the things that make people want to pull up roots and leave their home countries and communities behind. So I am sure that in the coming days, weeks, and months, we will continue to have conversations with Mexico on how we can work better together to really improve the prosperity for all of our citizens. Thank you.
QUESTION: So that wasn’t actually brought up during this virtual trip between Secretary Ebrard and Secretary of State Blinken?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics of our diplomatic conversations. I think what I’ve highlighted really shows the many ways that we can work together, the United States and Mexico, on these common challenges. Because I think both of our leaders see that the common challenges also bring with them common opportunities to benefit our citizens, whether they live north of the Rio Grande or to the south.
QUESTION: And if I may ask my second question, it’s also on immigration. As to – as the Department of State and the White House and DHS made very clear, the U.S. is not processing – or not accepting, I should say – new asylum applications at the moment at the southern border. Has the U.S., or the Department of State, assessed the consequences of bringing to a halt these applications at the moment? And I’m talking about migrants who might have a legitimate case and are fleeing their countries for legitimate reasons right now.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Well, look, that’s a good question. I think that the fact that the President, President Biden, one of his first actions in office was to address the Migrant Protection Protocols program – and so the United States has begun processing some of these claims. I think going forward, the United States has said we want to ensure that migration to the United States is safe, that it’s humane, that it’s legal. And I think you saw in the declaration between Presidents Biden and Lopez Obrador the mention of the dignity of migrants. All of us as humans have human rights, and each of us has human dignity. It’s very important to remember that. I think the United States, in the approach that we laid out, is keeping that in mind. It’s recognizing that those who are making this arduous journey and leaving their families behind really feel a certain desperation.
I think we will have further announcements later, but right now our focus is on maintaining the health and safety of our citizens at the border and really processing those with active cases in the MPP.
QUESTION: Thank you, I appreciate it.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Our next question will go to Jose Diaz-Briseno. Jose, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I have two quick questions. One, was the access to vaccines for U.S. residents in Mexico a matter of conversation? What’s the position of the U.S. Government regarding that? Shall all U.S. residents in Mexico have access to that?
And second, was the recently passed security law in Mexico a matter of conversation between both the Secretary of State and Secretary Ebrard?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Thanks. Look, security cooperation between the United States and Mexico is strong. And I think it’s strong because both of our countries understand the challenges that we face from transnational criminal organizations that are smuggling drugs across the border. We are dedicated to working with Mexico to ensure that our security cooperation remains robust, that it’s rooted in our shared challenges, the shared threats that we face. And at the same time, we absolutely respect Mexico’s sovereignty and understand their desire to control their side of our border. But we’ll be working with Mexico going forward to ensure that our cooperation is strong so that we can make our countries and our streets safer for our citizens.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, but what about access to vaccines for U.S. residents in Mexico? Was that a matter of discussion? What’s the policy regarding that that the U.S. Government wants?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Look, our approach overall, the United States, to vaccines is ensuring that U.S. citizens get vaccines, but at the same time we know that the only way we’ll really be able to manage and hopefully put an end to the pandemic is through international cooperation. And I think you’ve seen the Biden administration’s commitment to international cooperation on the pandemic by rejoining the World Health Organization, and more recently, with a – up to a $4 billion commitment to the COVAX vaccine. So we’ll be discussing further both with Canada and Mexico ways that we can work together to ensure that public health in North America is strengthened.
QUESTION: Shall U.S. citizens in Mexico have access to the vaccine, sir?
MR PIECHOWSKI: Well, I’m not a public health expert so I don’t know the exact highpoints on that.
QUESTION: No, but you are – you take care of the U.S. citizens’ concerns while abroad, specifically in Mexico. You have a Consular Affairs department over there. Are you pushing Mexico to vaccinate U.S. residents in Mexico? This is a question that many U.S. residents have posed to me as a reporter.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Okay. I’m happy to take that question.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. We have time for one more question. Isabella Gonzalez von Hauske. Forgive me if I say that wrong. She has a follow-up question she’d like to ask. Please go ahead, Isabella.
QUESTION: Don’t worry. I didn’t understand if the Mexican – if the Mexican reform of the electric industry was something that the presidents talked about in the virtual meeting or in the meeting between Secretary Ebrard and Secretary Blinken. I would like to know if it was a topic, indeed.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Sure. Well, we, I think, have been in conversations with Mexico at all levels, at a number of levels, at various points in time, conveying what we – what we are hearing and the – our sense that there needs to be transparency for private sector investors in the energy sector even as we respect Mexico’s sovereignty and their sovereign rights to enact laws.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Thanks.
MODERATOR: I want to thank everybody for your wonderful questions today, and a special thanks to Deputy Assistant Secretary Piechowski for giving his time to answer all these questions today. Thank you, everyone, and this briefing is now concluded.
MR PIECHOWSKI: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jean.
QUESTION: Thank you.