Harper, Mexican president dance around controversial visa imposition

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto before they...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto before they deliver a speech to media, during an official welcoming ceremony for Harper, at the National Palace in Mexico City February 18, 2014. Harper is on a two-day visit to Mexico. (REUTERS/Henry Romero)

Jessica Hume, National Bureau

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

MEXICO CITY — Despite platitudes and emphatic references by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to the two countries' "70 years of excellent relations," a joint event held by the leaders showed the frosty relationship between the two.

Several agreements came out of bilateral talks Tuesday, though none of them directly addressed the main point of contention between the countries — a visa imposed by Harper in 2009.

Nieto called Canada a strategic partner of utmost importance and said Canada is Mexico's second top destination for exports, the fourth largest investor in Mexico, and that the trade relationship is worth more than $35 billion a year.

In fact, Canada's trade deficit has more than doubled since 2009 according to statistics from Industry Canada.

But Nieto also mentioned the visa — something Harper conspicuously did not.

Nieto insisted he "understood" the reasons Canada had imposed the visa and thanked Harper for his "willingness to continue dialogue" with the hope of "eliminating the visa in the future."

When the visa was imposed five years back, Canada was receiving more refugee claims from Mexico than anywhere else in the world. The number of applicants tripled between 2005 and 2009.

But only 11% of those claims were being approved.


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