Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Summit in Texas

When the leaders of NAFTA nations meet today we may begin to hear subtle changes in the public voice of economic integration. It is possible that in very "measured" language the political impetus for a concerted effort to harmonize trade on the continent will expose new vigour. It is possible that issues that would profoundly affect the relationship between Canada and the United States, as well as Mexico and the United States, will be given a new agenda. It is possible that issues that have caused tension - trade issues specifically - will be addressed in an urgent and constructive manner. That the United States might see the North American economic future as an important leverage in the face of dynamic changes in the the global economy should not be unexpected. It's just that it has seemed so shamefully ignored. Is it too much to hope that the leaders of the NAFTA nations will renew their commitments to economic integration?

Certainly, President Bush has a lot on his plate, but he has been a leader of indeterminable will. If there were a time to tame the U.S. protectionist voices that have threatened the relationships with Canada and Mexico, then it must be now. Softwood lumber? This is a trade issue that can stand as a symbol of the importance of trade, and the costs of protectionism. So too, for Mexican cement. It is time for the U.S. President to stand up for American consumers just as much as it is time for the U.S. to make an unequivocal commitment to free trade with its NAFTA partners. Now would be a good time to hear some words of commitment.

From Prime Minister Martin I would hope that he is able to garner some respect and trust from President Bush. Regardless of the Liberal government's tenuous minority position, it is important that Bush knows our two countries are on the same page. Security issues must be dealt with in a satisfactory manner - there will be no room for political grandstanding. The sooner we have a Canadian government that commits to a security arrangement with the United States the better our trade positions will evolve productively. Mr. Martin: assure President Bush of a Canadian commitment to U.S. security.

It is unreasonable to expect too much from the summit this week, but I hope the message that comes out is conciliatory and at the very least engages further talks on a regular basis. The global political economy will evolve, and certainly U.S. interests in shaping that political economy are in the forefront of policy makers, analysts, and the media. But one should always tend to one's own yard first. Economic prosperity in North America, and the Americas in general, should be a primary policy objective.

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