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FOCAL Views: A call for re-engagement in North America

While much attention was given to the G8 and G20 summits by their Canadian host last summer, a third meeting of heads of state, also to be held on Canadian soil, slipped through the cracks without any notice. The sixth annual North American Leaders Summit, which Ottawa had planned to host in August 2010, never took place and no alternative plans for the meeting have been developed since. Nobody heard the screen door slam.

This is a deeply troubling sign for trilateral relations and for the future of North America.This is in part symptomatic of the need for Canada to re-engage with Mexico. A stronger bilateral relationship means a stronger North America. FOCAL, through its Canada-Mexico Initiative, has developed bilateral policy options in four priority areas. First, the movement of people agenda must move forward and new options to facilitate travel could be considered, including implementing Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) visas or a biometric border pass. Second, Canada and Mexico have extensive sub-national ties that can be both strengthened and rationalized to feed into the bilateral agenda. Third, co-operation on energy issues, particularly in renewables, would fuel innovation and contribute to North American energy security. Finally, the deepening of economic and trade ties continues to be key. Canada and Mexico could also join forces to ensure the U.S. security agenda does not lead to more trade setbacks.

Following this roadmap would benefit North America as a whole. Another key issue that calls for a joint response is security. A meeting of the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican foreign ministers in Wakefield, Quebec last December addressed transnational organized crime, but Canada’s bilateral relationship with the United States garnered the majority of the headlines when rumours of a new North American security perimeter emerged. The deal being negotiated by U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper would further harmonize border security with the goal of easing the flow of people and goods across the U.S.-Canada border, which has been complicated since 9-11. But the security perimeter talks didn’t include Mexico. This is baffling given that its internal security struggle is, along with terrorism, the single greatest threat to North American security, including Canada’s. There are many trilateral avenues from which North American security could be approached.The emergence of organized crime as a threat to all three countries is one such area. While the toll is incomparably gruesome in Mexico —where nearly 35,000 people have died since 2006 in the country’s drug war— the constant danger of violence spilling over the border and the appearance of related gangs as far North as Vancouver indicate that it is a continental problem. Following the supply chain further South through the Caribbean and Central America reveals a regional challenge, one that could best be confronted with a three-headed North American approach.

More seemingly benign threats could benefit from the same strategy. Standardizing North American environmental and health regulations could prevent polluting multinationals from relocating to Mexico, the consequences of which are not restricted to the local population. The H1N1 pandemic was derisively called the “NAFTA flu” by some who blamed an American multinational’s flight to Mexico due to health infractions in the U.S. for creating the strand that quickly spread to the rest of the continent and the world. An integrated energy policy, meanwhile, could fend off the adverse effects of climate change while shoring up the continent’s energy security.Security challenges in North America are multifaceted and have the potential to affect all areas of trilateral co-operation. For the sake of its citizens’ well-being and the competitiveness of its businesses, we all need to take North America more seriously.

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