Book Launch: The North American Idea | Wilson Center

Book Launch: The North American Idea

Event Co-sponsors

Laura Dawson, Public Policy Scholar, Former Senior Economic Analyst, U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada

Kevin O'Shea, Minister of Political Affairs, Embassy of Canada

Robert Pastor, Professor of International Relations and Founder and Director of the Center for North American Studies at American University

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico Institute, Advisory Board Member, Mexican Ambassador to the United States

Celebrating the launch of Robert Pastor’s new book, the Wilson Center’s Canada and Mexico Institutes convened a group of policy makers and the public to discuss the future of North America. Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan articulated a bold vision of North America that included the creation of a continental customs union and, eventually, the issuing of North American passports.

Speaking in support of Pastor’s book, The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future, Ambassador Sarukhan reminded the audience that for each dollar of U.S. exports that China buys, Mexico and Canada purchase nine. He suggested that both Canada’s and Mexico’s relationships with the United States have become complex and “intermestic” (simultaneously international and domestic), requiring a truly cooperative approach in order to overcome regional challenges and take advantage of numerous “missed opportunities.” Sarukhan addressed a number of these unresolved issues, such as migration and customs pre-clearance, on his way to concluding with a tongue-in-cheek criticism, disagreeing with Pastor’s assertion that “The idea of North America is an idea whose time has not yet arrived.”

Robert Pastor, professor at American University, happily accepted Ambassador Sarukhan’s critique, replying, “After [Saukhan’s] speech, I agree it may have just arrived.” Pastor went on to offer a robust defense of The North American Idea, slamming those “pandering pundits and politicians” who have made NAFTA their “piñata,” attacking it for political purposes while ignoring the way in which it has positively transformed the continent. Pastor pointed out that in during the first seven years following NAFTA’s implementation in 1994, North America’s share of global GDP rose from 30 percent to 36 percent while intra-regional trade skyrocketed. But since the high point in regional integration was reached at the turn of the decade, trade growth declined by two-thirds and the North American portion of world GDP fell back down to 30 percent, said Pastor. In addition to advocating several specific proposals regarding economic development, transportation, energy, education, and border management, Pastor addressed the larger issues of vision and political will. He lamented the dual-bilateral (U.S.-Mexico, U.S.-Canada) approach that has dominated regional relations in recent years, finding particular fault in Canada’s resistance to trilateral negotiations.

Kevin O’Shea, minister of political affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, took a rather different point of view, defending Canada’s position. While acknowledging the enormous success of NAFTA in increasing regional trade and investment, he argued that Canada had accurately made the calculation that certain issues can best “be dealt with bilateral, some trilateral.” O’Shea suggested that even while Canada seeks to work on several issues, such as the plan to develop a Smart Border, without the inclusion of Mexico, its bilateral relationships with both the United States and Mexico have never been better. In the long run, O’Shea argued, the parallel dual-bilateral processes should naturally converge toward trilateralsim.

Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar and former Senior Economic Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa Laura Dawson moderated the session, encouraging panelists and guests alike to consider what would be necessary to reconnect the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico relations into a single, trilateral relationship.


  • Robert Pastor

    Professor of International Relations and Founder and Director of the Center for North American Studies at American University
  • Arturo Sarukhan

    Global Fellow
    Former Mexican Ambassador to the United States
  • Kevin O'Shea

    Minister of Political Affairs, embassy of Canada
  • Laura Dawson

    Former Director, Canada Institute
    Former Senior Economic Analyst, U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada