Events

Toward A North American Community?

June 11, 2002 // 12:00am

Summary of a meeting with Stephanie R. Golob, Professor, Baruch College, City University of New York; Jeff Heynen, Associate, Policy Research Initiative; Laura Macdonald, Professor, Carleton University; Alejandro Moreno, Director of Research, Reforma; Bruce Stokes, Columnist, National Journal; Isabel Studer, Professor, FLACSO; Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, Policy Analyst, FOCAL; Carol Wise, Professor, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS.

In the early 1990s, the passage of NAFTA prompted debate about economic and social integration in North America. Today, the future of the North American relationship continues to be discussed, and Mexico's push for a "NAFTA plus" agreement has intensified debates about the future of economic, political and social integration. This conference, co-sponsored by the Latin American Program's Mexico Institute, the Project on America and the Global Economy, and the Canada Institute, was designed to generate dialogue in Washington about the future of integration in North America and the degree to which NAFTA has had an impact on identity, sovereignty, and political practices in the three participating countries.

The first panel looked at Canadian, Mexican, and America attitudes towards sovereignty and identity in the context of North America. Trade, political integration, and the nature of agreements among the three countries will largely depend on the way people in these countries define themselves and their interests, and the extent to which they feel there is something to be gained from further integration. In this context, Jeffrey Heynan observed that a community is a group of people with considerable social interdependence and shared norms and practices who participate in common decision-making procedures. It was important to see whether Mexico, the United States, and Canada were moving in the direction of creating a community in this sense. Stephanie Golob suggested that economic integration is not inevitable and that trade is intertwined with strong feelings of nationalism and domestic politics in the United States. She argued that Americans have two contradictory feelings about power, one that is highly nationalist and the other internationalist. U.S. foreign policy revolves around conflict and compromise between these contradictory positions. She suggested that future decisions on greater integration would probably come about via "integration through protectionism," where agreements to integrate the three countries further are coupled with measures that protect U.S. industries, creating an incremental approach to integration.

Alejandro Moreno observed that Mexican public opinion is strongly in favor of free trade. However, attitudes toward NAFTA's current performance are much more ambivalent. although young people (the "NAFTA generation") tend to favor it. Mexicans are split on whether NAFTA has strengthened or weakened national identity, with a slightly higher percentage believing it has been positive for national identity. Mexicans are very enthusiastic about the possibility of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would include other countries in the hemisphere, but feel that the United States should remain the principal trading partner. This appears to represent a strong sentiment in Mexico that the country should be open to countries both in Latin America and in North America at the same time they have a pragmatic belief that the United States will continue to be the main strategic partner. Laura MacDonald noted that identities are not fixed but shifting and multiple, and that sovereignty is no longer limited to a national territory with a state. Nonetheless, she argued that most Canadians are highly patriotic and have a strong belief in the benefits of the Canadian way of life. The people of Quebec have been much more open to the idea of North America, since they see the international stage as offering an opportunity to express their distinctiveness from the rest of Canada; however, most English-speaking Canadians have been much more cautious in pursuing closer integration. She also noted that most Canadians live within a short distance of the U.S.-Canadian border; therefore, the border with the United States plays a much more significant role in Canadian identity than it does for either Mexicans or Americans, most of whose population lives further away from the other two countries.

The second panel looked at the emerging relationship between Canada and Mexico. While the two countries have had five decades of diplomatic relations, a stronger Mexico-Canada relationship has emerged since the passage of NAFTA. During the last decade, trade between the two countries has tripled, and there are increasing government and academic exchanges. However, Isabel Studer indicated that the Mexico-Canada relationship still looks underdeveloped when compared to the Mexico-U.S. and Canada-U.S. relationships. Stacey Wilson-Forsberg argued that the most significant challenge in Canada to the emergence of a stronger Mexico-Canada relationship is the lack of knowledge about Mexico among Canadian legislators and the public. More study tours for legislators, academic exchanges, and education on a non-governmental level are needed to inform Canadians, Wilson-Forsberg asserted.

However, Studer indicated that increased knowledge alone is not going to make the relationship a more strategic one. Canada has been hesitant to support Mexican President Vicente Fox's proposal to develop a "NAFTA plus," which would include a common market, development fund, migration agreement and new institutions. Canada will continue to have concerns about stronger trilateral ties with Mexico as long as asymmetries exist between the two nations. Wilson-Forsberg indicated that Canadian government officials currently favor a "two-speeds model" of North American integration in which the Canada-U.S. relationship would continue to develop, and Mexico would be invited to join once it is on a path to modernization. Wilson-Forsberg finds this model worrisome; while she acknowledges there are many problems in Mexico, the Mexican economy continues to grow and an increasingly young, urban population means there is potential for a strong market. Carol Wise concurred that while there are asymmetries, they are not insurmountable. Studer suggested that there is an existing trilateral agenda, which includes trade and investment, education, environment, energy, and that an expanded North American Community could include issues already on the agenda. Studer concluded by saying that competitive and economic considerations will prevail over identity concerns in the development of a North American Community.

Luncheon speaker, Bruce Stokes, indicated that the challenge of creating a North American Community is broader than most perceive. Polls conducted in the United States consistently demonstrate that three-fifths of Americans want to pull out of NAFTA and have a negative view of free trade in general. Stokes suggested Canadians view NAFTA more favorably (two-thirds support it) and that Mexicans are ambivalent about the agreement, though generally supportive of free trade. However, building a North American Community means recognizing that there are also resentments in Canada and Mexico against the United States and that the relationship is highly asymmetrical. Stokes cautioned that how the United States deals with problems in North America influences how the country is perceived as a leader in the world. He stressed the importance of generating public dialogue about free trade and creating procedures for citizens of the three countries to have input into the current agreements on trade. He noted that when NAFTA was negotiated there was limited public discussion about it. He further argued that a North American consciousness is likely to develop out of economic relationships rather than from other processes. Integration will be forged in the heat of conflict over the relationship and the debate this generates, not only through rational discussion and good ideas.

by Andrew Selee and Emily Heard

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