MEXICO CITY — When North American leaders met in 2021, for the group’s first summit in five years, the mood was optimistic. Gone is former President Donald Trump, who rose to power by demonizing Mexican migrants and who once called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau «very dishonest and weak.»

But as President Joe Biden participates in what is informally known as the “Three Amigos” summit on Monday, the camaraderie has begun to fade and the post-Trump honeymoon appears to be over.

Differences over business practices and crime have become increasingly pronounced. In two days of closed-door meetings, the leaders are expected to settle the grievances as they seek consensus on reducing the mainland’s dependence on China for crucial goods and supplies.

“Last year, the agenda was a celebration of the fact that the so-called ‘Three Amigos’ summit was returning after a hiatus under the Trump administration,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Now, there are many tensions to unpack. It’s going to be a less pleasant summit than last year, particularly as trade tensions have surfaced and are very serious. They will be the elephant in the room during many of the discussions in Mexico City.»

The Biden administration is pressuring Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to crack down on drug cartels that have flooded the United States with fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that killed an estimated 72,000 people in the United States in 2021. Mexico is dealing with a rise in gun-related homicides and wants the United States to stop smugglers from shipping illegal weapons into the country.

A worsening immigration problem looms over the summit. Before arriving in Mexico City late Sunday, Biden stopped in El Paso, Texas, amid criticism from congressional Republicans that the southwest border has become more porous under his tenure. Last week, Biden implemented new immigration enforcement policies that include sending back 30,000 people a month who crossed into the US illegally from Mexico from places like Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti.

Navigating the summit will require special diplomatic finesse, given the intertwined needs of the three countries and the domestic political pressures each leader faces.

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, Biden has been delivering a «Buy America» ​​message. Touting a bridge project near Cincinnati last week, she said, «I don’t sign anything that Congress passes unless I buy something American.»

Several foreign leaders warn that Biden’s stance amounts to a form of protectionism that hurts trading partners. Greater integration between North American economies could provide a bulwark against Chinese economic power and help bring jobs back to the continent, analysts say.

Under Biden, there has been “a doubling down of this ‘Buy America’ approach,” said Louise Blais, a former Canadian diplomat. “However, all these things that seem to point to China have collateral damage on Canada and the Mexican economy.

«I hope that both the Mexican president and the Canadian prime minister will raise this issue with the president, to say, ‘Look, we need to have a more continental approach to some of these policies.'»

Since the Trump administration replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement with a new trade pact, the three countries have opened a total of 17 trade disputes with each other, according to a report. informative document of the Society of the Americas/Council of the Americas. The United States has filed nine against Mexico and two against Canada.

Corn is an example of the complexities and tradeoffs involved. Citing health concerns, López Obrador has called for a ban on imports of GM corn. Tens of thousands of American jobs depend on exports of yellow corn to Mexico. In November, the Biden administration threatened to file a formal business complaint if Mexico goes ahead.

However, pushing López Obrador to buy more corn could alienate him at a time when Mexico accepts the return of 30,000 people a month from the US.

“The reality is terrible,” said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the US. “Municipalities on the Mexican side of the border do not have the resources to accommodate 30,000 migrants expelled from the US on a monthly basis. You are already seeing overloaded capacities. These migrants immediately become prey to organized crime.

“López Obrador feels that if he gives in to the US request on migration, he has more leverage to ask Biden not to ‘meddle’ in what López Obrador considers to be purely the internal affairs of Mexico and Mexicans,” Sarukhan added. .

Leading up to the summit, the leaders sought to ease some of the tension and perhaps create a more congenial atmosphere. A concern of the US authorities has been the level of commitment of López Obrador to defeat the drug cartels. A motto of his is «hugs, not bullets.»

To the relief of US officials, last week Mexico arrested Ovidio Guzmán, son of jailed notorious drug cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The United States had offered a $5 million reward for the arrest of the young Guzmán, who is allegedly part of a cartel that moves fentanyl and other drugs across the border.

That the arrest occurred on the eve of the summit does not seem coincidental, analysts said. Observers have privately joked that scheduling more summits could be an effective way to dismantle more cartels.

«It’s interesting how they find these people days before a big summit, but they can’t seem to find them at other times,» Berg said.

Biden made a diplomatic gesture of his own. Instead of flying into the more conveniently located central airport in Mexico City, Air Force One landed on Sunday at a new airport that was a pet project of López Obrador.

Choosing that airport, about 30 miles from the city’s center, “shows how important that relationship is,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing. When a reporter mentioned that the Mexican government was pleased that Biden was coming to the new airport, she said with a laugh: “Really?”