On April 22, Presidents George W. Bush, Felipe Calderón, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded a trilateral summit in New Orleans. The summit marked the fourth meeting of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), which has drawn fire in all three countries since its proceedings are not open to public participation or congressional oversight and working groups are made up only of government and large business representatives. The leaders’ Joint Statement and press conference targeted the U.S. electoral process by responding directly to Democrats’ recent criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The three leaders reiterated their unconditional support for NAFTA and the SPP, urged passage of the Colombia FTA, and argued for passage of the Plan Mexico aid package.

Below are excerpts from the statement and the press conference, followed by comments:

"The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), based on the principle that security and prosperity depend on each other, is a useful mechanism that helps us to identify and pursue practical solutions to shared challenges in North America in a way that respects our individual and sovereign interests. We each remain open and accountable to our own people."

Since when do leaders find it necessary to state that they "remain open and accountable to our own people"? This is a defensive statement directed at critics of the SPP from both the right and the left. From the right, the SPP has drawn fire for supposedly being a stepping stone toward a "North American Union" which, according to the highly organized John Birch Society and others, would threaten U.S. sovereignty. Progressive organizations have criticized the process for NOT being open and accountable to the people, since in fact it is comprised of working groups made up exclusively of government officials and representatives of transnational corporations with no civil society participation, no congressional oversight, and no full disclosure of its conclusions or recommendations. As attacks multiply from both sides, the leaders clearly felt it necessary to include a rhetorical statement to respond to criticisms, with no indication of what the mechanisms for assuring this openness and accountability are.

"The SPP complements the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has helped to triple trade since 1993 among our three countries to a projected $1 trillion in 2008. NAFTA has offered our consumers a greater variety of better and less expensive goods and services, encouraged our businesses to increase investment throughout North America, and helped to create millions of new jobs in all three countries. NAFTA is key to maintaining North America’s competitive edge in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and connected global marketplace."

The praise of NAFTA comes on the heels of statements by both Democratic presidential candidates that NAFTA should be renegotiated. The candidates’ positions, in turn, respond to growing popular sentiment that the trade agreement has not benefited the majority of the U.S. population and has led to job loss and erosion of labor conditions. In Mexico, farmers’ organizations have called for renegotiation and in Canada new evidence shows deterioration in living standards for poorer Canadians since the agreement. As usual, the defense of NAFTA centers on increased trade while assuming that increases in international trade correlate to improved well-being in society—an assumption not born out by the decade and a half experience of NAFTA. Nor is there any recognition whatsoever that job creation in many sectors has been more than offset by job displacement caused by NAFTA.

The statement lists the following areas for SPP work:

"To increase the competitiveness of our businesses and economies, we are working to make our regulations more compatible, which will support integrated supply chains and reduce the cost of goods traded within North America …"

The fear of citizen groups in all three countries is that a competitiveness strategy designed solely by business interests will reduce costs by lowering standards on public health, environmental, and labor regulations, and integrate supply chains by off-shoring production to where labor is cheapest and most vulnerable. In fact, this process is well advanced as factories have moved into Mexico and higher national standards in these areas have been challenged and eliminated as trade barriers.

"To make our borders smarter and more secure, we are coordinating our long-term infrastructure plans and are taking steps to enhance services, and reduce bottlenecks and congestion at major border crossings … All of these efforts will help us more effectively facilitate the legal flow of people and goods across our shared borders while addressing threats to our safety."

The statement makes no mention of the major thorn in the trilateral relationship: Mexican migration to the United States. NAFTA did indeed facilitate the flow of goods but left out entirely labor flows. As a result, jobs were lost to imports in Mexico and nearly half a million people a year began to seek work in the United States with no immigration framework to manage the flow of workers. NAFTA also did not include compensation or transition funds for Mexican sectors like agriculture, hard hit by liberalized trade with the world’s largest economy. Immigration continued to be off the agenda at this summit.

"To strengthen energy security and protect the environment, we are seeking to develop a framework for harmonization of energy efficiency standards, and sharing technical information to improve the North American energy market. Together we intend to create an outlook for biofuels for the region, work to enhance our electricity networks, and make more efficient use of our energy through increasing fuel efficiency of our vehicles … "

What’s an "outlook for biofuels"? One can assume what is meant is a joint plan for biofuel promotion and does not include a comprehensive analysis of the downside of rising food prices. This would be most unfortunate for the future of the continent given the current crisis in accessibility to food for the poor and the on-going "tortilla crisis" in Mexico that affects the nation’s major source of nutrients for poor families.

"… we are exchanging information and exploring opportunities for joint collaboration to further reduce barriers to expanding clean energy technologies, especially carbon dioxide capture and storage to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions."

It’s inaccurate to list carbon dioxide capture as a clean energy technology since it is a market-based mechanism to permit further emissions by "offsetting" them. This essentially permits polluters to continue to pollute. As opposed to real clean energy technologies like solar, it does not create an alternative source of energy to fossil fuels and instead creates a new market and avoids more stringent restrictions on emissions, thus being a measure favored by business.

"Our efforts in these areas have been informed by the insights of interested parties, in particular the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), representatives from the business community who have helped us identify and develop solutions to the most pressing issues affecting North American competitiveness."

This is a very narrow, elite group of "interested parties" made up of representatives of Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, Merck, and others. Placing North American integration and the definition of solutions to "pressing issues" in their hands creates a highly skewed integration agenda that lacks any balancing influence of public good represented by environmental groups, labor organizations, or citizen concerns.

Annotated excerpts from the press conference:


"Now is not the time to renegotiate NAFTA or walk away from NAFTA. Now is the time to make it work better for all our people, and now is the time to reduce trade barriers worldwide."

This is a direct response to calls from civil society and the Democratic candidates to renegotiate the agreement. It reveals one of the major purposes of the trilateral summit in New Orleans: to lock in pro-corporate policies before the possibility of a Democratic presidency. The aim of the Bush administration at the summit was to enlist the help of the governments of Canada and Mexico to essentially tie the hands of the incoming president. In a nation clamoring for change, this objective runs counter to public sentiment and violates democratic principles.

"And so we spent time talking about the Colombia free trade agreement … An agreement with Colombia would level the playing field. And a failure to pass an agreement would send a terrible signal to our neighborhood. The Speaker of the United States Congress has killed this bill unless she gives us a date certain for a vote."

Again, the summit is being used to advance the failing Bush administration domestic agenda. Colombia is not part of North America and the prominence of this issue in the official statements can only be explained in this context.

"… in terms of just bilateral relations with Mexico, the Merida Project is an important project to help implement a dual strategy to deal with crime and drugs. The President [Calderón] and I have talked about this initiative in a way that benefits the people of Mexico and the United States. The initiative includes a commitment this year of $550 million by the United States. And Congress needs to pass the deal, pass the bill. And they need to pass it in such a way that it conforms to the strategy that the president of Mexico thinks will best help deal with this issue."

The Merida Initiative, an integral part of the security component of the SPP, is actually not "a dual strategy to deal with crime and drugs." It includes no commitments on the part of the U.S. government for addressing the parts of the transnational problem that take place on its soil, in particular, demand, drug sales, gun-running, and money laundering. Instead, it sends millions of dollars to U.S. defense contractors and IT firms to provide equipment and training within Mexico, while strengthening the Mexican army and police forces—notorious for unprosecuted human rights violations and corruption.


Calderón reiterated the support for NAFTA and opposition "to even think about amending it or canceling it." He also repeated the "need to support the work of this Competitiveness Council."

"I want to talk about the efforts being made in this country to establish free trade agreements that are much more practical and beneficial for everyone, in particular, the one under discussion now in the U.S. Congress between the United States and Colombia. It’s extremely important, I think, to bear in mind that when you provide more opportunities for trade in the Latin American region, there will be many more opportunities for prosperity. And it needs to be made very clear that the prosperity of Latin America, and particularly that of Mexico, is a crucial factor for the prosperity of the people of North America."

Considering again that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is not an issue in Mexico, the geopolitical strategy of building alliances among rightwing governments in the hemisphere to confront the growing number of leftwing governments becomes clear. This ideological taking sides has no place in a trilateral summit dedicated to North American integration issues and panders to the Bush agenda.

"This is the last meeting for President Bush. From now on, the veteran for these meetings is going to be Prime Minister Harper. And I’m sure that whoever the next president of the United States will be, he or she will continue with this regional effort. Independently of the fact that, unfortunately, President Bush will not be with us, we have at least informally invited him to our next meeting personally."

Officially inviting an ex-president to the next trilateral summit is unprecedented and completely outside diplomatic protocol. It should be considered an affront to the incoming president of the United States and to the people of the United States.


"We concluded that it’s essential for the prosperity of our countries to continue this effort. And we have emphasized in particular the border crossing, Windsor-Detroit. It is evident that greater North American cooperation will lead to the creation of jobs, and will allow us to compete in a very effective way to other emerging commercial blocs around the world."

The concept of North America as a trading bloc is not born out in practice, since North American corporations are trading and investing wherever they can maximize profits, with no particular loyalty to the region.

"I also talked about our concern about the thickening of the border between our countries. The Chambers of Commerce of the United States and Canada are concerned about these border issues for several years."

Since the 9-11 temporary closure of the U.S.-Canada border, Canadian businesses have been in a panic about the possibility of repeating the measure. This has made the Canadian government pliant to U.S. demands in other areas, even over protests from Canadian civil society organizations.