Toward a new North America
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, August 23, 2008

The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) is dead. Long live the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

After NAFTA, the SPP has been the most significant development in North American integration, so its imminent death and potential resurrection seem strangely out of step. Yet this is the only conclusion possible reading "The Future of North America: Replacing a Bad Neighbour Policy," which appears in the July/August edition of Foreign Affairs.

Published by the prestigious American Council on Foreign Relations, it is the latest in a series of articles and books written by Robert A. Pastor. The intellectual father of what former U.S. ambassador Paul Celucci has indicated will in 10 to 15 years be a "union in everything but name ..." says North American integration has stalled and that last April's summit meeting between the leaders of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada was probably the last hurrah for the SPP.

"The strategy of acting on technical issues in an incremental, bureaucratic way, and of keeping the issues away from public view, has generated more suspicion than accomplishments." Following his inauguration and discussions with his two closest neighbours, "(t)he new president will probably discard the SPP."

The European Union became a reality in 1993. Inevitably, someone would fashion a template and provide the road map to achieving something similar in North America. That someone would be a well-connected Harvard political scientist who served in various postings in Latin America and whose response to the peso crisis of 1994 was Towards a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New. NAFTA, Robert Pastor argued in this 2001 publication, lacked the institutional mechanisms to address such serious crises. But before anyone could read it, 9/11 intervened.

Languishing in the devastation of 9/11, the template needed resuscitation. Fortuitously, heightened security needs would be its life saver. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales and the Council on Foreign Relations combined forces to create the necessary task force.

Under the co-chairmanships of John P. Manley, Pedro Aspe and William F. Weld, with Thomas P. d'Aquino, Andres Rozental and Robert A. Pastor as vice-chairs, the task force produced "Creating a North American Community," whose recommendations drew heavily on Pastor's book. They included the "establishment by 2010 of a North American economic and security community" with a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter as well as the development of a customs union, common market, investment fund, energy strategy, a set of regulatory standards, and an advisory council, to name a few. Absent was Pastor's recommendation for the creation of a common currency he called the "amero."

Barely two months earlier in March of 2005, the SPP, anticipating many of these themes, had been announced at the Three Amigos summit in Waco, Texas. By 2007 and 2008, the Three Amigos were met by organized anti-continentalization forces. With CNN's Lou Dobbs leading the charge, their anti-NAFTA incantations reached even into the Democratic nomination race.

Now, replete with instructions for America's incoming president, Pastor is fighting back. Dismantling trade and investment barriers, NAFTA succeeded in what it was designed to do, he argues in The Future of North America. U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico has tripled from $341 billion in 1993 to more than $1 trillion in 2007. Inward direct investment quintupled and, in Mexico, increased tenfold between 1990 and 2005. "North America, not Europe, is now the largest free-trade area in the world in terms of gross product."

But rather than build on the success of NAFTA, the last eight years were reduced to a North American game of Scrabble with new acronyms purporting to be initiatives while growth in trade has diminished, wait times at the border have lengthened and public opinion toward integration has deteriorated "in part because the U.S. failed to comply with NAFTA on issues ... like trucking (in Mexico) and softwood lumber (in Canada)."

Instead of refighting the NAFTA debate, the new president should lay the foundation for a new North America. He can do this, Pastor says, by negotiating a customs union, by creating a North American Commission and a North American investment fund, among other initiatives.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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