The Three Amigos are getting a bit testy, where the Mexican mini-summit revealed some friction.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon made clear his opposition to Stephen Harper’s introduction of a visa requirement for Mexicans, saying it was bad for relations. U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear he was getting a little tired of Harper’s complaints over how Buy American laws hurt Canadian exporters.

It may have been just an incidental slip but it was interesting how the U.S. president referred at the press conference to the Mexican leader as his “great friend” and Harper as his “good friend.” He also went out of his way to compliment Calderon on his climate change efforts while not doing the same for Harper.

If there was friction among the Amigos it should come as no surprise. The days of a smooth functioning NAFTA agreement are over. With the advent of China, the days when Canada had few other good alternatives for trade than the United States are over. The 9-11 calamity has changed the dynamic at the border, perhaps permanently. As well, there is the deep American recession, which isn’t helping the bilateral spirit. And with regards to Mexico, the immigration problem can’t help but make things difficult.

For political purposes, Harper has to get along well with Obama because the U.S. president is so popular in Canada. But on an issue-by-issue basis, on a political philosophy basis and on a personality basis the two men cannot be expected to find the going too easy.

On the thickening of the border issue as well as the Buy American issue, there was no signal yesterday that Obama would be doing Canada any favours. At the end of the press conference, sensing perhaps a need to leave on a nice note, Harper went out of his way to compliment Obama on his handling of the leadership crisis in Honduras.

That was smart. On Mexico, however, he clearly made a misstep in his timing of the announcement — shortly before this summit — of the visa requirement. Though the PM’s position is perhaps defensible he should have known how his timing would only showcase the controversy. It did — and led to Harper, in order to ease the tensions, having to announce the whole matter was Canada’s fault.

With the U.S. and with Mexico, these aren’t easy times for Ottawa. But Canadians should get used to it. It’s a new era. Given the changing dynamic on the continent, the Three Amigos billing is Pollyannaish.

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