The North American Leaders Summit met at the Cabanas Cultural Center in Guadalajara, Mexico on Monday, August 10, 2009
We’re All North Americans, Now More Than Ever
by Rick Van Schoik, Director
What an ideal time for President Obama to go to Mexico to meet with the other two North American leaders! The U.S. public and Congress are in a protectionist funk, yet the President can and must continue to explore how the United States can effectively benefit from our interactions with all nations, particularly our immediate neighbors. He can join his fellow leaders to the north and south to show us here at home and to our friends and enemies around the world what it means to be neighborly. He can in fact convince us “homeland-centric” Americans that we are North Americans.
North America, after all, matters more than we think. While NAFTA, a relatively “shallow” agreement, had proven itself by creating over 40 million jobs in the three nations since its passage in 1993 and today facilitating the daily exchange of almost $2.5 billion worth of raw and finished goods among the three countries, the three nations (two of which are members of the G-8 and one of which is a member of the “Group of Five” emerging economies) are threatened with being outcompeted by trading blocs in Europe, Asia, and even South America. Yet during this recession the reaction of many regulators and industrial sectors is to impose ‘Buy America’ trade sanctions and continue to prevent Mexican trucks from free commerce throughout the US when we should be expanding our transportation and trading networks. After all, it was the trade restrictions imposed by the Smoot-Hawley Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1930 that made the Depression the Great Depression and could make this recession linger even longer.
North America matters, because while many of us perceive that most of our energy comes from the Middle East, most of it actually comes from right here in North America. Canada and Mexico provide almost all our uranium; most of our petroleum (Canada and Mexico are ranked first and third as our petroleum suppliers, respectively), natural gas and hydroelectricity; and increasing amounts of renewable and alternative energy. Negotiating with our neighbors to continue both on helping to meet our enormous energy needs and on greenhouse gas reduction credits makes sense as a triple win.
Finally, with thousands of miles of shared borders, North American collective security is for the three of us to decide. The U.S. has got it right in its “all-hazards” approach but is wrong in going it mostly alone in border security at immense expense and with questionable payoff. We have invested heavily in what Mexico calls a border “wall” and continue to experiment with various sensors on the Canadian border, all with unknown tangible effectiveness against an un-quantified threat with a vulnerability that is also ill-defined. We continue to conflate immigration, regular or not, with terrorism, when the known actual menace to Mexican governance that knocks at our door at our invitation is the narco-insurgency. The Mérida Initiative will be a great start now that it has actually started, but we can do much more to stem the flow of guns and bulk cash that fuel the violence and corruption by bolstering the Mexican customs, law enforcement, jurisprudence systems than by finishing the 700 miles of triple fencing out into the desert.
The external perimeter of North America could be our first line of defense rather than utilizing the internal, national borders of the three nations as the last line of protection. Wave two of the flu pandemic will be the test of our collective security, preparedness, and resilience.
We recommend reinventing the borders through shared North American border co-management. Fair and open trade can raise all boats with the tide if our mutual borders facilitate North American competitiveness instead of thwarting it.
All three governments recognize the co-responsibility for border management, but we urge the three governments to announce a more formal and robust movement towards co-stakeholdership and eventual interactive co-management of our borders and 327 ports of entry in North America. As NACTS recommended in our February 2009 report, North America Next: A Report to President Obama on Building Sustainable Security and Competitiveness, the theme of sharing should dominate this new co-stakeholdership and should be based on five components:
Ultimately these efforts should enable the three governments to maximize the competitive benefit vis-à-vis Asia and Europe and could help jump-start and sustain our collective economic engine.