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North America the Beautiful

Authors: John Manley, Pedro Aspe, and William F. Weld
March 23, 2005
Wall Street Journal

When the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States meet for a summit in Texas today, they will represent countries that together face growing challenges to their economic competitiveness and security. In the 12 years since the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, much has changed. Nafta revolutionized trade in North America, helping to unlock our region's economic potential. But meanwhile, China and India have become increasingly integrated into the global market, the European Union has expanded to 25 nations, and terrorist and criminal activity have underscored North America's vulnerability.

Deepening the integration of our three countries promises great benefits for our citizens. But as the September 11 attacks showed, integration is neither inevitable nor irreversible. We cannot afford to stand still or to take one another for granted.

To make North America more competitive and secure, the three leaders should announce a plan to establish a North American security and economic community by 2010. The aim of this community would be to guarantee a free, safe, just and prosperous North America. The boundaries of the community would be defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter, within which the movement of people and products would be legal, orderly and secure. To meet these objectives, three broad challenges must be addressed:

The first challenge is security, a precondition for growing our economies. We learned after September 11 that without effective security cooperation among our three countries, our commercial relationships suffer and our freedoms and quality of life are affected. The three leaders meeting in Texas should set the goal to establish a common security perimeter for North America that would give a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders an equally hard time no matter which country he tried to enter first. This would require far-reaching changes in our border patrol, including harmonizing visa and asylum regulations, synchronizing entry and exit screening and tracking procedures, fully sharing data on the exit and entry of foreign nationals, and jointly inspecting container traffic.

Our second major shared challenge is our regional economic competitiveness. Over the last decade, the pace of economic integration within North America has outstripped the capacity of the Nafta framework, even as global competitive pressures have grown. Our three governments need to remove restraints on our ability to compete, including adopting a common external tariff and entering into negotiations to find a joint approach to unfair and anti-competitive trade practices -- like dumping -- which have had a toxic effect on our relations. We also need to make travel within North America easier and more secure. A North American Border Pass with biometric identifiers would speed travel within our region so that border officials can focus on genuine threats.

Our third challenge is to address the disparities in economic development within North America, which threaten us all. Trade and investment flows on the continent have increased dramatically, but the development gap between Mexico and its two northern neighbors has widened. Low wages and lack of economic opportunity in parts of Mexico stimulate undocumented immigration, and contribute to human suffering that can sometimes translate into violence. Mexico must take steps to attract investment and accelerate growth. At the same time, the U.S. and Canada, as a matter of their own national interest, should assist by establishing a North American Investment Fund to create infrastructure linking the poorer parts of Mexico to the markets of the north.

To meet these challenges, we need regular summit meetings like this month's gathering in Texas. There is no better way to demonstrate to our citizens the importance of our continental partnership than to have the American and Mexican presidents and the Canadian prime minister meet at least annually to discuss major issues, agree on shared priorities and provide energy and momentum to the North American agenda.

It is time to get serious about North America. Today's summit in Texas is the place to start.

Mr. Manley is the former Canadian deputy prime minister and finance minister. Mr. Aspe is the former finance minister of Mexico. Mr. Weld is the former governor of Massachusetts and assistant U.S. attorney general.

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