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North America, 12 Years Later

March 23, 2017 11 minute Read
The Bush Institute asked two officials involved with the beginnings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) to take readers back to the launch of this North America initiative, which President George W. Bush started with Presidents Vicente Fox of Mexico and Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada on March 23, 2005 at a Baylor University meeting.

The Bush Institute asked two officials involved with the beginnings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) to take readers back to the launch of this North America initiative, which President George W. Bush started with Presidents Vicente Fox of Mexico and Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada on March 23, 2005 at a Baylor University meeting.  

Antonio Garza served at the time as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, a post he held until 2009.  Daniel Fisk served at the State Department during SPP's creation and later managed the partnership on the National Security Council under President Bush as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs,.   

Garza, a member of the Bush Institute’s Economic Growth Initiative advisory board, and Fisk, a Bush Institute Economic Growth Initiative Fellow, shared their views via email on why this initiative mattered then and what lessons it holds today for North American cooperation.  

The Security and Prosperity Partnership is not as well-known as the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the SPP grew out of the same belief: that North America is better off working together. Looking back to its creation 12 years ago this month, why was North America an issue in 2005?  

Garza: In 2005, the United States, Canada, and Mexico were working closer than ever on economic and security issues. It had been ten years since NAFTA tied the economies together and four years since the countries’ security collaboration picked up after September 11th. The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) in 2005 was designed as an institutional framework to fuse together this economic and security cooperation, by creating working groups that would move the partnerships forward and smooth over any obsolescence that had crept in since the original agreement. 

For all three North American leaders at the time — President George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin — trilateral cooperation was of the utmost importance. I can personally attest to President Bush’s commitment to North America’s security and prosperity after working with him first as a border official in South Texas, later as Texas’ Secretary of State, and finally as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico during his presidency. 

He, along with his two counterparts, understood that as North America’s security and trade needs evolved, our region’s security and economic competitiveness would be best served by deepening the cooperation among North America's government officials and the private sector. 

Fisk: When the leaders met in March 2005, the relationship among the three countries -- and the global constellation within which the three exist, function and compete -- had evolved significantly from the foundational concept of North America first articulated by Ronald Reagan and then built upon by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

Reagan, in his 1979 presidential candidacy announcement, called for “developing a closeness between the United States, Canada and Mexico [that] would serve notice on friends and foe alike that we were prepared for a long haul, looking outward again and confident of our future; that together we are going to create jobs, to generate new fortunes of wealth for many and provide a legacy for the children of each of our countries“

This vision was further advanced with the Free Trade Agreement with Canada (1988) and then the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA/1994) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. When it came into effect, NAFTA created the largest free trade region in the world.

By 2005, the vibrancy of this three-country economic relationship and the continuing shadow of September 11, 2001, had contributed to the objective within each of the three governments to explore areas of further cooperation, including the identification of concrete steps and achievable goals which each government could take to advance a shared security and prosperity. 

What did you want to accomplish with this partnership?

Garza: SPP’s working groups and their participants sought to improve and where beneficial, harmonize the trilateral relationship. Of course, the word “harmonize” can bring to mind a loss of individual sovereignty, but SPP was not aiming to diminish any nation’s autonomy. Instead, it was looking to ensure that the three countries held themselves to rigorous security standards and economic regulations and had a forum to air grievances and make suggestions to government officials.

This type of cooperation is particularly important, since the three North American countries work together on such a wide range of issues. We share security concerns, water reserves, air quality, and have roads, rails, pipelines, and communities that span the border. Not to mention the multitude of people, cars, trucks, and goods that cross back and forth among the three countries every day. SPP created many working groups where participants would work through the bumps that inevitably come from such broad and complex partnerships. 

Fisk: Respectful of the national sovereignty, the distinct institutions and bodies of law, and the history of each nation, the SPP’s objectives were straight-forward: to “develop new avenues of cooperation that will make our open societies safer and more secure, our businesses more competitive, and our economies more resilient.” 

The three countries represent one-fourth of the world’s gross domestic product. We are each other’s largest trading partners. We are linked by geography, history and elements of shared cultures. We are linked by a belief in freedom and the regular exercise of democratic processes. 

In the wake of 9/11, there was a growing realization that we confronted shared security challenges external to the North American continent. Further, in that environment, there had been a necessary policy focus on security, sometimes under-appreciating that economic security is national security. The SPP recognized these linkages and relationships, and sought to place economic and security on an equal policy footing, to garner greater prosperity and well-being of our citizens, always allowing for bilateral cooperation. 

To these ends, the SPP served as a means to place the economic and security relationships on an equal footing. In the post-9/11 circumstance, the necessary policy focus had shifted toward hard security. SPP sought to advance an understanding that economic security is national security and that the totality of the three-country relationship would accrue to the benefit of the citizens of each country. 

What lessons does the SPP process hold for us as we prepare to review NAFTA? 

Garza: The experience of trying to defend SPP might hold the best lesson for today's NAFTA review: that is, the power of a compelling counter-narrative. During SPP's creation and throughout its relatively short lifespan, the initiative was inundated by commentators alleging it was a Trojan horse for European Union style integration. 

These commentators and their followers sought to destroy what they saw as the erasing of North America's borders and erosions of its sovereignty. Their claims were false, but it didn’t matter. The message was clear, powerful, and scary, and the less exciting answer that it was a series of cross-border working groups trying to make life better for the citizens of the three countries simply wasn't able to compete. For NAFTA, we’ve seen a similar narrative from protectionist, anti-trade commentators. There are pundits that present every factory closure or economic malaise as a direct consequence of NAFTA. 

Of course, many Americans have valid concerns and real economic grievances, but we also know that not everything can be traced back a free trade agreement and there are much more complex economic transformations at play. Not to mention that many Americans benefit from NAFTA every time they go to the grocery store or Best Buy. 

However, once again, these arguments often make little match against a compelling narrative. NAFTA negotiators and supporters should be prepared with a unified counter message and have their own clear explanations and stories at the ready. The stakes are simply too high for those of us that care about the safety and security and yes, prosperity, of the United States and our neighbors to sit this one out. 

Fisk: The first lesson is the need to make any process immediate and relevant for citizens. With SPP, the objective was to make governmental processes more effective in selected areas that would make for safer societies, more competitive businesses, and individuals more prosperous, and to do in manageable and reasonable steps, consistent with national laws. 

Too often, citizens’ understanding of the benefits sought got lost in bureaucratic, hard-to-explain details. SPP was not successful in articulating the benefits of its operation outside of a small segment of the private sector, leaving average citizens with more questions and uncertainty about how SPP would benefit them. 

The second lesson revolves around the SPP framework in which the three democratically-elected leaders, consistent with their respective constitutional and statutory mandates, could prioritize specific areas for enhanced cooperation. One manifestation of this framework was an annual Leaders Summit. This three-leader format was complemented by bilateral leader meetings. 

This summit format offered the three leaders a wider and deeper perspective than that found in bilateral discussions, as useful and necessary as bilateral interactions are. 

In addition to the dynamic of a three-way leader conversation, it also is a format to hear from interconnected actors, such as private sector representatives who share a supply and production chain or civil society actors who share a common interest, such as in workers’ rights, food safety and sustainability, or the sharing of cultural and educational experiences. 

One of the lessons of the SPP is that there are communities of shared interests that cross borders and that impact all three North American nations. A limitation of the SPP process was its focus on government-to-government and private business sector-to-government interactions. While the economic potential of North America and enhancing its competitive positioning is essential in today’s setting, consultation with a broader range of actors can be equally important to achieving greater citizen security and prosperity. 

Democratic governments have an obligation to hear from and respond to its own citizens; and that citizen interaction should reflect the diversity of civil society. That range of experiences should be factored into each government’s respective review of any NAFTA revision.