Mexico retaliates against Canada in visa squabble

Thu Jul 16, 2009 3:58pm EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico said on Thursday that Canadian diplomats and officials would now require visas to visit the country, a retaliatory move after Ottawa imposed new visa rules for Mexican visitors.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa told reporters after meeting Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon in Washington that she had voiced her country's opposition to the new Canadian visa rules imposed on Monday.

"I spoke strongly against the decision to require Mexicans to have visas to travel to the country," she said, calling the move counterproductive.

Asked whether Mexico would retaliate, Espinosa said a visa arrangement for Canadian government officials and diplomats wanting to visit her country would be suspended.

But she said there were no plans to impose visa restrictions on Canadian tourists, adding that Mexico valued its close ties with its northern partner. More than one million Canadian tourists visit Mexico each year.

"We do not intend to harm this flow of people between the two countries," she said at a joint news conference with Cannon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The foreign ministers met in Washington on Thursday to plan for a three-way summit in Mexico next month.

Cannon said the new visa rule for Mexicans was imposed to crack down on a flood of refugee claims. Mexico is the biggest source of refugee claimants in Canada, with claims tripling since 2005 to 9,400 last year.

"We are not looking for difficulties with our allies," he said Cannon. "We had reached an unacceptable level (of refugee claimants) and we had to act," he added.

(Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by Anthony Boadle)