After a two year hiatus, the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico are set to meet for a trilateral summit. While the push for further North American integration continues incrementally, at this time, it is unlikely that discussions will yield any grand new initiatives that involve the participation of all three NAFTA partners. Instead, the meeting could be used to build off of bilateral discussions already underway. This includes negotiations between the U.S. and Canada on a North American Security perimeter deal designed to accelerate the flow of people and goods across the border.
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In an article from several months back, Robert Pastor, who has been a leading proponent of continental integration, emphasized that Obama’s jobs strategy should be a North American one. He explained how the U.S. can expand trade faster by focusing on its neighbours and also pointed out that few Americans realize just how dependent the U.S. is on Canada and Mexico. In order to facilitate this approach, Pastor recommended, “We should eliminate restrictive ‘rules of origin,’ which add a tax as high as the tariff that was eliminated by NAFTA, and combine, rather than duplicate, customs’ forms, personnel and frequent-traveler programs.” He also called on President Obama to, “expand his infrastructure fund to be a North American one, with contributions from all three countries.” Pastor went on to say, “The leaders of each nation should then instruct their transportation ministers to develop a North American plan for transportation and infrastructure that would include another trade corridor from the busiest transit point in Windsor, Ontario, to southern Mexico.” This sounds a lot like plans for a NAFTA superhighway.
In his op-ed, Robert Pastor also stated, “In 2009, the three leaders of North America pledged to meet the next year, but that still hasn’t happened. Obama should invite his counterparts to address the full North American agenda, beginning with a strategy to lift the continent’s economy and then addressing transportation, immigration, education and borders. The goal should be to forge a North American community.” Pastor may have gotten part of his wish as President Barack Obama will host the North American Leaders Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 13, 2011 which will include the participation of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The meeting is expected to focus on economic, energy, environmental and security issues. The setting could also provide an excellent opportunity for the U.S. and Canada to release an action plan that stems from bilateral trade and security perimeter talks that were launched back in February. Both countries could also further discuss the pending Keystone XL oil pipeline which would span from western Canada to Texas. President Obama has now indicated that a final decision on the project may not take place until sometime next year.
While the U.S. and Canada have been busy putting the final touches on the proposed Beyond the Border agreement, a series of unwelcome distractions have caused the initiative to lose some of its momentum. In September, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency draft report recommended the use of fencing and other barriers on the northern border. This ties into an assessment from last year by the Government Accountability Office which warned that only a small portion of the Canadian border was under operational control and even went so far as to claim that it posed a greater threat than the southern border. Although the CBP denied that a fence is being considered at this time, it does reveal that in many ways, the U.S. still thinks in terms of a two border policy with the idea of a security perimeter around the U.S. and another one around North America.