The North American Free Trade Agreement celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2014, creating a natural opportunity to reflect on the state of North American security and competitiveness. At a time when nearly all of the key issues facing North America are being understood and addressed either independently by the United States, Canada and Mexico, or within the dual-bilateral framework of U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada relations, this report attempts to view these challenges and opportunities through a trilateral lens. This shift is simple but powerful. In fact, it means that this report, which was designed to be largely descriptive, has more than a dash of policy recommendations as well. Simply by taking North America as the unit of analysis, new policy options begin to percolate.

Some highlights from the report:

In recent years, the prevailing dual-bilateral approach has both led to and been caused by a “North America when necessary, but not necessarily North America” mindset. The findings of this report suggest a simple and slight modification is needed: “North America when possible, but possibly not always North America.”

If bilateral efforts are advanced within the framework of a strategic vision for a stronger, more competitive North America, then bilateral relations take on a deeper purpose, becoming laboratories for cooperative efforts that can become best practices and, when appropriate, be trilateralized.

North American cooperation on economic issues is best understood as an enormous opportunity for development and prosperity. Cooperation on security and border management may be better understood as a necessity.