OTTAWA - The Mexican ambassador to Canada says his country is "really mad" at the Harper government for the continued imposition of a visa on its travellers here.

Ambassador Francisco Suarez told The Canadian Press in an exclusive interview that Mexico is so upset that if the issue isn't resolved by next year, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto might have to postpone a planned visit to Canada.

That would cast a shadow over the festivities that Mexico and Canada are planning for 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations.

"We're now saying it's a major irritant," said Suarez, who assumed his new post in Ottawa three months ago.

"We're now really mad. … Canada has the most stringent visa system for Mexicans of any country in the world."

While Mexico's relations with Canada are generally very good, the visa issue could become an obstacle to deepening economic co-operation in areas such as energy and natural resources, the envoy said.

Canada imposed a visa on Mexican travellers in 2009 to curb abuses by a growing number of bogus refugee claimants. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself has said he would like to see it lifted but says Canada has to reform its own backlogged refugee system first.

The visiting Mexican foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, said little in Ottawa this summer standing next to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird when Baird was unable to give a timeline for lifting the visa.

Suarez said the time has come to carve out a "roadmap" that will keep the issue from dragging on for months and years.

If that's not in place by the time Harper is expected to travel to Mexico in the late months of this year or in January, the visit will not be productive, the envoy said.

"If Harper goes to Mexico, and there's no solution, either a clear solution or a clear path, a roadmap, with a solution that does not take two years — that's the point — he's going to get a very bad atmosphere."

Pena Nieto's planned trip to Ottawa in the second quarter of 2014 won't go ahead either if the issue isn't close to being resolved, said Suarez.

"President Pena Nieto cannot come here if the topic is not solved," he said. "It will have to be delayed."

Pena Nieto visited Harper in Ottawa last November just days before he was officially sworn in as president. The then-president elect appeared friendly and conciliatory about the work that still needed to be done to lift the visa.

Suarez said the two leaders, who have met at other international gatherings since then, have developed an "outstanding" rapport, while the tone between senior cabinet counterparts is also positive.

"The relationship is so good, the opportunities are so good. The agenda is so high level with things to celebrate and to expand that it's really a great pity that there's this thorn, an irritant."

Suarez said Mexico supports Canadian efforts to persuade the United States to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

He said Keystone would be an integral part of a broader North American energy grid that would make the continent a bigger international player in oil and gas.

He said he expects that to be a topic of discussion at the next North American leaders summit, set for February, between Harper, Pena Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama.

TransCanada, the Canadian firm behind the pipeline, would be a welcome investor in Mexico, which needs to expand its pipeline system, he added.

Mexico is also keen to see other Canadian firms such as Bombardier and Goldcorp possibly invest in future infrastructure and mining projects in Mexico.

But at the moment, Suarez said, Canadian popularity is plummeting in Mexico.

Suarez said Mexicans have an easier time getting visas to the United States, which has serious border and immigration issues with its southern neighbour, and face no such restrictions in European Union countries.

"The Canadians require 10 times more information than the Americans."

Stories of Mexican visa woes make headlines in his country, while other incidents have affected high-ranking officials, himself included, said Suarez.

The chairman of the board of a large Mexican museum cancelled plans last year to expand an art exhibit beyond Toronto to several Canadian cities because he had to reapply after being issued only a single-entry visa. He was angry because the museum's curator received a multiple-entry visa, said Suarez.

Another former politician gave up his time-share apartment in Whistler, B.C., because he didn't want to be subjected to the "indignities" of long visa forms that asked the date his parents died 20 years ago.

Suarez said he found the Canadian visa forms personally offensive when he filled them out for a visit to Canada in recent years, prior to his return to the foreign service, when he was the vice-president of a Mexican foreign relations think-tank.

"I had to put the date that my mother and father died, 15 and 20 years ago. What's the use of putting the date of your mother and father (who) died 15 and 20 years ago?"

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5 Regions Hit With Travel Advisories And Their Safer Alternatives
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  • Avoid: Syria's Ruins Of Palmyra

    Syria's a country with a rich history as well as a wealth of historical and archeological attractions, such as the ancient cities of Aleppo, Bosra and Damascus, the <a href="" target="_blank">ruins of Palmyra</a>, and the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. However, after more than <a href="" target="_blank">two years of civil war</a>, many of Syria’s treasured sites – including <a href="" target="_blank">all six UNESCO World Heritage Sites</a> – have been damaged by shelling, looting and military occupation. As the security situation continues to worsen in the country, and the <a href="" target="_blank">United States considers a missile strike</a> against the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians last month, <a href="" target="_blank">Canada advises against all travel to Syria</a>.

  • Avoid: Pyongyang, North Korea

    Last month, North Korea proclaimed it foresaw a “<a href="" target="_hplink">bright future</a>” for its tourism sector, as it revealed new plans to attract tourists year round and to offer more flights into its capital, Pyongyang. Nevertheless, <a href="" target="_blank">Canada’s advisory to avoid all travel</a> to this mysterious country won’t be going anywhere any time soon. With its nuclear weapons development program, recent missile and <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear weapons tests</a>, and (sixth) statement that the Korean Armistice Agreement is null, tension in the region is high. Those curious enough to visit the communist state – which only sees between<a href="" target="_blank"> 3,000 and 4,000 Western tourists</a> per year – will be assigned a government-approved tour guide, whom they must stay with all times.

  • Avoid: Lake Tanganyika, Burundi

    This tiny country, boarded by Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is <a href="" target="_blank">considered one of the poorest in the world</a>, and has been plagued by ethnic conflict since its independence in 1962. Nevertheless, Burundi is rich in its breathtaking scenery with forested mountains, sandy beaches, savannah grasslands and the large freshwater lake, Tanganyika. It is also home to an array of wildlife, including elephants, hippos, crocodiles, lions and antelope. Although the country has begun to stabilize since the National Liberation Forces rebel group and the government signed a<a href="" target="_blank"> final peace agreement in March 2009</a>, you are best putting your visit to the “the heart of Africa” on hold. <a href="" target="_blank">Canadians are advised to avoid non-essential travel to Burundi </a>(and all travel to certain regions of the country) as outbreaks of violence and civil unrest continue throughout the country, and due to terrorism threats.

  • Avoid: Zakouma National Park, Chad

    This semi-desert country, bordered by Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger, has also been beset by internal conflict since its independence in 1960. Considered to be one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, Chad is <a href="" target="_blank">ranked fifth on the Failed State Index</a>. And although it has a few unique attractions to offer visitors, such as the Ennedi Plateau in the Sahara, and the diverse and the well-protected <a href="" target="_blank">Zakouma National Park</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Canada advises against all travel to Chad</a>, (and against non-essential travel to the capital, N’Djamena), due to potential clashes between rebels and government troops that can occur throughout the country.

  • Avoid: Karachi, Pakistan

    Pakistan has numerous historic, archaeological and natural sites to offer traveller -- sites that attracted<a href="" target="_blank"> roughly one million tourists to the country last year</a>, according to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. Popular attractions in Pakistan include the ancient city of Taxila, the stunning Lake Saiful Mulk, bustling Karachi, and the highest international road in the world, <a href="" target="_blank">Karakoram Highway</a>. But despite efforts to boost tourism in the country, the sector has taken numerous hits in recent years, and the number of tourists has been declining largely due to terrorism in the region and conflict in neighbouring countries. It's because of this high threat of terrorism and unpredictable security situation that<a href="" target="_blank"> Canada advises against non-essential travel to Pakistan</a>, and against all travel to certain regions of the country.

  • Instead, Try: Whitewater Rafting In New Zealand

    With its stunning and diverse landscape, New Zealand is an exciting country to visit year round and is a Mecca for adventure tourists. But <a href="" target="_blank">September marks the beginning of spring</a> in New Zealand, and the warm days, cool nights and colorful blossoms make it a particularly pleasant time to visit. Rising temperatures and melting snow create ideal conditions for a thrilling white water ride; while the slopes are still blanketed in snow and open for spring skiing and snowboarding. There is no nationwide advisory in effect for New Zealand.

  • Instead, Try: Ogasawara Islands, Japan

    Japan tirelessly continues to lure tourists back following the <a href="" target="_blank">meltdown of its nuclear reactors in Fukushima</a>. Although travellers are still advised to avoid districts or towns surrounding the power plant, the rest of Japan is safe to visit and there are no other advisories in place for the country. And what better time to visit Japan with its host of historical sites, and natural beauty than in September? The temperatures have begun to fall and the summer crowds have all but left. While spring in Japan brings beautiful cheery blossoms, autumn is famous for its vivid foliage, which is scheduled to start around the end of the month. Japan also has <a href="" target="_blank">17 World Heritage Sites</a> worth exploring, including cultural sites such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the inspiring Fujisan, as well as natural sites such as the<a href="" target="_blank"> Ogasawara Islands (dubbed "The Galapagos of the Orient")</a>, that are teeming with unique plant and animal life.

  • Instead, Try: Etosha National Park, Nambia

    September is dry season in Namibia -- the perfect time for a game-viewing safari. So grab your camera and head to the watering hole, where large game such as giraffes, elephants, lions and rhinos, as well as a variety of birds flock during September and there's no better place to spot these magnificent beasts than <a href="" target="_blank">Etosha National Park</a>, one of Africa’s greatest game reserves. Another popular spot in Namibia (especially for photographers) is <a href="" target="_blank">Sossusvlei</a>. Located in the Namib Desert, this giant clay pan is bounded by some of the highest red dunes in the world. Sossusvlei is particularly magical at sunset when colours are most vibrant. There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Namibia, but travellers are advised to exercise a high degree of caution due to banditry.

  • Instead, Try: Valletta, Malta

    September is one of the best months for lounging on the beach in Malta thanks to temperatures hovering around the high twenties. But no matter when you decide to visit this Mediterranean country, there's no shortage of activities to do, sites to see and delicious food to eat. Dive into the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Stroll along the blossoming Maltese countryside. Explore Malta’s rich history at sites such as the medieval walled <a href="" target="_blank">city of Mdina</a>, or <a href="" target="_blank">Valletta, Malta</a>’s capital city and a World Heritage Site with 320 monuments.

  • Instead, Try: New England, United States

    If you are looking for somewhere closer to travel to, September is a gorgeous time to explore New England. The summer crowds and heat have subsided, and if you visit earlier in the month you just might miss the invasion of autumn leaf-peepers (and the higher prices that await them). Explore Maine’s celebrated lighthouses and dine on lobster. Witness the colourful cranberry harvest in Cape Cod and<a href="" target="_blank"> its fun festivals</a>. Or if crowds and higher costs aren’t a concern for you, then head to Vermont in mid-to-late September to view its <a href="" target="_blank">world-famous foliage</a> by biking along the countryside, canoeing or kayaking on a peaceful lake. For the best view, soaring above the crowds in hot air balloon ride.