Energy, security top secretive NAFTA talks
Starting Aug. 20, Presidents George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met in Montebello, Canada, to discuss North American integration. The purpose was to advance the little-known second phase of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), called the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" (SPP).
Launched in Waco, Texas in March 2005, the trinational "partnership" has been forged with almost no public input, accountability, or Congressional oversight.
Laura Carlsen, director of the America’s Policy Program of the Center for International Policy, notes, "The SPP is essentially a gentleman’s agreement between the executive branches and major corporations. Since it isn’t a law or a treaty, elected representatives and the public have had no input—in most cases we don’t even know what’s going on."
Although officials claim that SPP negotiations deal primarily with refining rules and standards for transborder transactions, investigations by citizen groups reveal that major issues are on the table.
Many of those go way beyond what was passed by Congress under NAFTA. They include extraterritorial rights over natural resources, extension of the Bush administration’s security agenda to Mexico and Canada, and most likely a billion-dollar counternarcotics aid package to Mexico.
Largely unknown to the public, the SPP has spawned numerous working groups, reports and recommendations. In 2006, the private sector was brought into the procedures with the formation of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC). This body includes business representatives from industries involved in intercontinental trade and investment, including Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, the Mexican Foreign Trade Council and Canada’s Suncor Energy. The Council does not include representatives of labor, environmental or civil society organizations
Citizen groups and elected representatives have protested the secrecy of the SPP agenda and proceedings. In May the Mexican legislature passed a resolution that requires the president to send a detailed report on all agreements that government officials have assumed in SPP working groups to the Senate.
The U.S. House of Representatives followed with an amendment that prohibits the use of Department of Transportation funds in SPP working groups until the Congress has reviewed and assessed the SPP agenda. A similar motion that calls for public consultations on the SPP has been tabled in the Canadian Parliament.
The recommendations made public to date would permit greater foreign participation in Mexico’s oil sector and increase Canada’s oil sands production, oblige the nations to adhere to unitary—often lower—food safety standards, and liberalize financial services.
They also include trinational security measures. The Security and Prosperity Partnership was born in the post-9/11 era, when President Bush sought to extend U.S. counter-terrorism strategies to Mexico and Canada, and Homeland Security became a major player in the trilateral relationship. The counternarcotics proposal falls under the rubric of this new area.
Many of these recommendations, only partly available to the public, will have lasting impacts.
Citizens groups have complained that while the SPP extends its purview, the most pressing issues facing the trinational relationship are inexplicably off the agenda. Immigration, which has experienced a two-fold increase since NAFTA, has been discarded as too politically sensitive although theorists and other integration processes have recognized that labor flows are a central issue of regional integration.
Elimination of tariffs on corn and beans in Mexico, of major concern to Mexico will not be discussed either, according to government representatives. Mexican small farmers have demanded renegotiation of the clause, claiming that it will drive them out of business and increase out-migration.
Carlsen concludes that "Trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico totalled $810 billion in 2005. Clearly, the three nations need mechanisms to assure these flows are safe, orderly, and mutually beneficial.
"The SPP, however, has surreptitiously proceeded well beyond the regulatory mandate into areas that threaten the sovereignty of the three nations. This has happened not only without citizen participation, and without sufficient public knowledge of the proceedings."
"Citizens can’t allow the course of North American integration to be dictated by a closed group of business and cabinet representatives. National legislatures in Mexico, Canada and the United States should demand that SPP procedures be open to the public and subject to citizen review. The priority should be on increasing the long-term well-being of the populations of the North America."
Americas Program via Upside Down World, Aug. 20