Canada is irritated that the United States is keeping its border closed to Canadian beef and maintaining punitive tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber. Washington isn't pleased at the Ottawa government's snub of U.S. plans for a missile defense shield.
With Mexico, relations are strained by the Bush administration's anger over a high Mexican tax on soft drinks made with high fructose corn syrup, water owed to U.S. farmers and the suspicion Mexico could do more on drug trafficking and to address fears that al-Qaida agents are slipping into the United States from the south.
Mexican officials complain about vigilante groups hunting illegal immigrants in Arizona, new U.S. walls being built along the border and the still-stalled status of a guest worker immigration liberalization proposal.
However, none of these issues are on the agenda as President Bush meets jointly Wednesday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Instead, the centerpiece of the three-way summit, which is being held in Waco and at Bush's ranch in a sign of the importance of the U.S. relationship with both its neighbors, was to be the signing of a new accord aimed at improving the security and economies of the three countries.
The White House portrayed the initiative as unparalleled in its scope. It is meant to be both complimentary of existing cooperative arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Binational Commission of U.S. and Mexican officials and the Smart Border effort with Canada, and yet also more expansive and goal-oriented, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The leaders' announcement was expected to take place during a joint press availability following 90 minutes of meetings at Baylor University. Mexican officials, including Fox and his deputy secretary for North America, Geronimo Gutierrez, have detailed some of the areas of new cooperation.
On the economic side, for instance, the initiative is aimed at both increasing productivity within the three nations and also at making their markets more competitive with the European Union and China. Joint undertakings could include standardizing some regulations on businesses, making it easier for business people to move across borders, increasing cooperation on energy exploration and moving toward a common external tariff for certain North American products sold to other economic blocs.
NAFTA, the 11-year-old landmark pact that eliminated tariffs on most products traded between the three countries, would not be touched.
On the security front, the leaders were expected to vow to continue to work together in battling terrorism.
A U.S.-Canada-Mexico task force has made some bold recommendations, including a North American border pass based on fingerprints or eye scans to speed border crossings. The Task Force on the Future of North America also advocated an "outer security perimeter" around the three countries, to be achieved by harmonizing visa and asylum regulations, integrating "watch" lists, conducting joint law enforcement training, setting up a "marine defense command" to protect North American ports and pursuing closer military cooperation with Mexico.
But the cooperation agenda covers over the myriad contentious issues that are a continued strain on neighborly ties.
U.S. officials fully expect many if not all of them to come up, raised casually by the leaders during the 20-minute helicopter ride from the meeting site to Bush's ranch, or over an hourlong lunch there or during a brief tour the president planned to give his guests of his beloved property.
Also not an official part of the meeting but expected to be discussed was Bush's unrealized wish backed by Mexico and Canada to create a hemisphere-wide free trade area.
Bush's 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq, opposed by both Fox and then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, chilled relations on all sides.
In Canada, Martin's election last year was seen by Washington as a chance for a fresh start. However, Martin surprised U.S. officials last month when he rebuffed Bush's offer to include Canada in the U.S. missile defense program.
The Canadian prime minister was expected to press Bush on the continued mad-cow-disease related closure of the U.S. border to Canadian beef and a long-running dispute over duties on softwood lumber.
Fox and Bush had warm ties when Bush first took office, but that relationship soured when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led Bush to shelve a migration accord coveted by Mexico. Differences over Iraq only aggravated the situation.
Bush put the immigration proposal back on his agenda in January, even though he has done little on it since and Fox made a long-delayed visit to the president's ranch last spring and ties have appeared to be on the mend.