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Harper says visas still needed for Mexican visitors

Harper says visas still needed for Mexican visitors

Posted by Alejandra Romo on February 18, 2014

Canada’s visa requirements for Mexicans are not up for negotiation and won’t be lifted until the government feels all its security concerns have been addressed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

“The criteria are absolutely clear and under the current circumstances we should have a visa with Mexico,” Harper told reporters.

“However … we remain always ready to discuss those criteria, what Mexico could do to address some of those issues and also what possibilities exist between us to facilitate legitimate travel because that’s what we do want to do.”

Harper made the comments Tuesday in Mexico City after standing next to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as the two watched over the signing of a handful of agreements, including one designed to increase air travel between the two countries.

The deal updates an airline agreement originally signed more than 50 years ago, and allows airlines from both countries to offer more direct routes from different cities.

Those routes have dried up since 2009 when the visa requirement was introduced without warning. The restrictions were put in place to cut the number of questionable asylum claims from Mexico.

The two countries still have to ratify the air travel deal, but even then it will be up to the airlines themselves to offer more flights if they wish.

According to the government, the deal is also designed to increase competition and prices – although how that will happen was not entirely clear in the announcement.

The Mexican government has been adamant for years that the requirements for a visa to Canada be dropped entirely. In his speech after the signing ceremony, Pena Nieto broached the visa issue, acknowledging Harper’s willingness to keep talking about it, but also reaffirming Mexico’s concerns.

Harper didn’t mention the visa issue in his remarks; he only did so during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters. Pena Nieto left the signing ceremony without taking questions from reporters.

The expansion of airline travel between the two countries is considered an interim step that is consistent with the Harper government’s decision not to lift the visa restrictions, but also allows Pena Nieto to tout a partial political win to his countrymen.

The visa requirements are, as one former Mexican diplomat called it, a “poison pill” in the relationship between Canada and Mexico. Since the requirements were introduced in 2009, the number of questionable asylum claims from Mexico has dropped by about 85 per cent, according to the government.

Still, the requirements remain in place, despite similar rules having been lifted for the Czech Republic.

In that case, the visa requirements were lifted as part of free trade negotiations with the European Union.

The meeting with Pena Nieto came one day before Harper and the Mexican president are to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama for what is dubbed the “Three Amigos” summit.

 

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