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'Three Amigos Summit' highlights split on trade

Post photo-op smiles, North American leaders resume tough stance on trade.

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon (L), Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) and U.S. President Barack Obama arrive for a joint news conference at the North American Leaders' Summit in Guadalajara August 10, 2009. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

MEXICO CITY — With the meeting dubbed the “Three Amigos Summit” and an abundance of handshakes and hugs for the cameras, relations between the three nations of North America have never looked better on the surface.

But behind the camaraderie of President Barrack Obama, President Felipe Calderon and Primer Minister Stephen Harper, the get-together in Guadalajara this Sunday and Monday highlighted deep divisions in how to pull the region out of the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression.

At the center of the differences are fears south of the Rio Grande and north of the Appalachians that the economic colossus of the U.S. is turning protectionist.

Such worries have been particularly stoked by the so-called “Buy America” provisions in Obama’s stimulus laws, aimed at helping struggling U.S. sectors such as the iron and steel industries.

This kind of language sparks major concern in Canada and Mexico, the United States’ No. 1 and No. 3 trading partners.

Both Calderon and Harper pressed the Buy America points in the meeting, officials said.

Obama reacted in the summit news conference by saying that he was personally against the provisions but that they should not disrupt trade. “I think it's important to keep it in perspective. We have not seen some sweeping steps towards protectionism,” he said. “This in no way has endangered the billions of dollars of trade taking place.”

However, other recent U.S. protectionist measures have also hit out at the North American partners.

In March, Obama signed a spending bill with a clause that shut down a two-year-old pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S.