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North American Meeting of Foreign Ministers sets continental priorities

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon hosted the North American Foreign Minister’s Meeting on Dec. 13, 2010, in Wakefield, Quebec. This meeting, the third of its kind, was held as a forum for critical discussion and to increase continental co-operation among the three states of North America. The primary issues discussed at the meeting were regional security, health security, the environment and green energy.

At the meeting the foreign ministers of all three states remained firmly committed to a trilateral approach in dealing with issues of significance in the Americas. At the end of the meeting the ministers expressed the importance of continuing to identify areas of common interest that would be better dealt with from a co-operative trilateral approach. The ministers expressed their desire to increase their co-operation on natural disaster risk reduction and improve the co-operation and dialogue between North-South American states.

The question of Haiti was the primary focus at the meeting. The ministers expressed their commitment to building long-term stability of the nation. Further, the ministers affirmed their desire for the international organizations in Haiti to resolve the Haitian election difficulties.

Canada in violation of lumber agreement

According to a ruling of the London Court of International Arbitration, Canada is in violation of its Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) with the United States. The court has ordered additional charges on exports from Quebec and Ontario as a result. The Jan. 21, 2011 ruling –the second to reach arbitration regarding the 2006 SLA– stated that provincial assistance programs in Ontario and Quebec violated the agreement. Canada has 30 days to apply the extra charges before the U.S. will be authorized to impose extra duties on its imports of Canadian softwood.

In spite of the ruling, Canadian Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan reiterated the London Court’s finding that, 97 per cent of the original U.S. claim has no basis. He stated that Canada will remain committed to the SLA and stressed the stability and benefits the agreement has brought to Canada’s softwood lumber industry.

The SLA, which came into force on Oct. 12, 2006, is binding for seven years. It features an established arbitration process that cannot be appealed.

A few days prior to the ruling, on Jan. 18, the U.S. brought forward its third complaint regarding Canada’s conduct under the SLA. This third complaint is concerned with the pricing of softwood lumber originating in British Columbia and will be dealt with in future arbitration.

Lower grades for world freedom

World freedom was in decline in 2010 and the Americas contributed to its descent, according to Freedom House’s latest report on global political rights and civil liberties. Freedom in the World 2011: The Authoritarian Challenge to Democracy points to democratic declines in Mexico and Venezuela as part of a downward trend across the globe.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez extended his control of the press and civil society while limiting legislators’ powers, the report said. Following opposition gains in September’s parliamentary elections —where a coalition won 52 per cent of the vote— Chávez rushed new laws through the outgoing parliament that allow him to rule by decree on a number of issues for 18 months.

Freedom House downgraded Mexico’s status from Free to Partly Free “due to the government’s inability to stem the wave of violence by drug-trafficking groups in several states.” It reported that organized crime threatens ordinary citizens, elected officials and journalists, with editors bowing to drug gangs and altering their coverage of the violence for fear of repercussions.

The news is not all bad, though. Colombia was among the few countries whose status is trending upward, and Venezuela’s problems cannot conceal the fact that the opposition united to make substantial parliamentary gains after boycotting the 2005 poll.

The report also notes the “heated and sometimes ugly debate” in the U.S. over immigration policy, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to roll back antiterrorism policies and close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

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