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North American Task Force Seeks Improved Trade, Border Security

Business, political, educational leaders offer recommendations

By Judy Aita
Washington File Staff Writer

New York -- A trinational task force has unveiled a series of recommendations to help Canada, Mexico and the United States strengthen North American competitiveness, expand trade and ensure border security.

Members of the Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, which was coordinated by the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed a detailed set of proposals that build on the recommendations adopted by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and U.S. President Bush at their trilateral summit in Texas during March.  The task force's recommendations are intended to provide specific advice on how the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), which was adopted at that summit, can be pursued and strengthened.

"The global challenges faced by North America cannot be met solely through unilateral or bilateral efforts of existing patterns of cooperation," the task force said in a written report released May 17.  "They require deepened cooperation based on the principle, affirmed in the March 2005 Joint Statement by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, that 'our security and prosperity are mutually dependent and complementary.'"

"Establishment by 2010 of a security and economic community for North America is an ambitious but achievable goal that is consistent with this principle and, more important, buttresses the goals and values of citizens of North America, who share a desire for safe and secure societies, economic opportunity and prosperity, and strong democratic institutions," the report said.

Task force co-chairman John Manley, former Canadian deputy prime minister, said May 17 that "we are asking the leaders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada to be bold and adopt a vision of the future that is bigger than and beyond the immediate problems of the present."

The recommendations address a range of issues confronting North American policymakers: greater economic competition from outside North America, uneven development within North America, the growing demand for energy, and security threats to the borders.  The task force developed what it calls a road map to transform North America into a trading area that allows for the seamless movement of goods, increased labor mobility and energy security.

"The finding that we made as a task force was that the security of North America is essentially indivisible," Manley said.  "It is a responsibility of every government to provide for the safety and security and protection of its citizens, and " on this continent, " is impossible for any one of our governments to do without the cooperation of the others."

"We came to realize that if our two borders ... became a front line for security, the impact that would have on normal relations and economic relations would be important," he said.

The key recommendation, Manley said, was for the three nations to move toward establishing a common security perimeter by 2010.  "It is important for all three governments to commit themselves to security within that zone, thereby alleviating the need to build some barriers at our mutual borders," he added.  "It implies greater cooperation between our security and intelligence agencies, [and] assistance in keeping track of security risks.  It implies that we understand the nature of the goods and people that are coming into the continent."

The task force also recommended the development of a "North American Border Pass" to expedite passage through customs, immigration and airport security throughout the continent; additional border facilities to allow for continued growth in trade across the borders; a move to full labor mobility between Canada and the United States; expanding temporary worker programs and creating a "North American preference" for immigration; reviewing the sectors that were excluded in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); adoption of a common external tariff; development of a North American energy strategy; and increased military cooperation.

Pedro C. Aspe, former finance minister of Mexico, said that NAFTA has been "a total success" in achieving its goal of increasing trade and investment among the three nations.  But the economies face new threats, new developments and new challenges.  "Hence, we need a new vision," he said.

"If we don't change our structure, we will loose our competitiveness" to China, India and the expanded European Union, Aspe warned.

One challenge is to address the development gap between central and south Mexico and the rest of the continent, which is caused primarily by poor infrastructure and lack of good education and training, he said.

NAFTA has transformed Mexico, but has also deepened and made much more visible the divisions between north and south, Aspe explained.  The northern part of Mexico, where the population has a higher level of education and which is better connected to U.S. and Canadian markets, has grown significantly faster than the center and south.

The wage gap has led many Mexicans, mostly from the south, to migrate in search of higher incomes and better opportunities and has made Mexico the leading source of illegal immigrants, Aspe noted.  The best way to ease the problem is to provide better economic opportunities in Mexico, he argued.

The task force recommended the creation of a North American investment fund to build infrastructure and improve education in south and central Mexico.

But the task force also recommended that Mexico reorient its economic policies to encourage more investment and distribute the benefits of economic growth more equitably; that Mexico fully develop its energy resources to make greater use of international technology and capital; and that the capacity of the North American Development Bank be enhanced.

The task force was made up of policymakers, scholars and business leaders from all three countries.  The 31-member group held meetings in Toronto, New York, and the Mexican city of Monterrey during the course of its deliberations.  It was organized in cooperation with the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

The full text of the report is available on the Web site of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Created: 18 May 2005 Updated: 18 May 2005 url