X
HELP US MAKE SENSE OF OUR COMPLEX WORLD
The Canadian Global Affairs Institute provides credible, open access expertise on global affairs. With your support, we can continue to spark impassioned nation-wide discussions designed to help Canadians better understand their role in the international arena.
S U P P O R T   U S
SUPPORT US

In The Media

NAFTA’s enduring lesson: Never forget your neighbours 

by Colin Robertson

The Globe and Mail
November 13, 2013

Twenty years ago, Americans and a lot of Canadians tuned in on a November evening to watch Larry King host what turned out to be seminal debate on free trade. It pitted then U.S. vice president Al Gore against Ross Perot.

Mr. Perot, the irascible Texan, was riding a wave of popular discontent with his warning that Americans should listen for a ‘giant sucking sound going south’ as jobs fled to the Mexican maquiladoras. The appeal netted him 19 per cent of the popular vote in the 1992 election, making him the most successful third party challenger since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912.

Gore dismembered Perot in debate and subsequently, support for the Clinton administration’s NAFTA legislation rose from 34 per cent to 57 per cent; the debate contributed to its passage a week later in the House of Representatives.

NAFTA worked.

All three nations enjoyed a decade of prosperity that created jobs and balanced budgets. North America’s share of world trade rose to 36 per cent before receding, in face of recession and the rise of Asia, to 25 per cent.

Unfortunately, the continued fear-mongering of Mr. Perot, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan – described by Republican leader Bob Michel as the ‘Groucho, Chico and Harpo of the opposition’ – took root in the United States. Flaring up during presidential primaries, NAFTA became, inaccurately, a code word for job loss.

After Sept. 11, security trumped trade as the U.S. ramped up its border presence, tripling budgets to build walls on its southern border and launching drones to patrol its northern frontier.

NAFTA leaders’ meetings, when held, have become competing conversations – one between the Canadian prime minister and the U.S. president and the other between the U.S. and Mexican presidents.

By necessity, the energy for trilateral reform requires the personal leadership of the U.S. president as both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton demonstrated on NAFTA.

George W. Bush launched the Security and Prosperity Initiative, but its scope was too broad and the vigor required was too little. Barack Obama shelved it, endorsing a bigger deal with the Pacific, as part of the U.S. pivot, or rebalance, towards Asia.

Given the deep economic integration, it would have made more sense for President Obama to caucus first with his North American counterparts. If you can’t define a relationship with your neighbours, how can you define a relationship with the world?

Our political leadership sometimes fails to appreciate what our business community already understands: Our mutual competitiveness depends on working together.

Global positioning starts with getting our act together in the neighborhood.

Bob Pastor, tireless champion of the North American idea, recently hosted a conference in Washington that

brought together business, legislators, civil society and the key officials from all three countries.

The conference released a survey showing that in all three countries there is strong support for trilateral free trade.

A series of practical suggestions were offered including:

  • Resurrecting a high-level business advisory group that is more than just a photo opportunity.
  • Given that there is no appetite or money for the new institutions, using more effectively those already in place, notably the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, and the moribund Commission for Labor Cooperation.
  • Develop a North American climate strategy that the leaders can take to the international table. Why not, for example, an international price on carbon, starting with North America?
  • Better high-level coordination within government and across governments (including states, provinces and cities) to maximize and sustain continental collaboration.

A coalition to inform and educate at the regional and community level will be led by the highly effective Pacific Northwest Economic Region and the Border Trade Alliance.

The recent announcement by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and International Trade Minister Ministers Ed Fast to work on a ‘constructive agenda’ is encouraging. It needs to look at better coordinating infrastructure and transportation grids, including pipelines, roads, rail and ports.

A take-away from the recent Canadian American Business Council conference in Ottawa is the requirement for a continental approach to talent, including co-ordinating training and skills development.

There are other efforts underway, including a Council of Foreign Relations Task Force led by David Petraeus and Robert Zoellick. They should start by reading the CFR’s 2005 report led by co-chairs John Manley, Pedro Aspe and William Weld.

Twenty years on, the best tribute to NAFTA’s enduring success would be a forward-looking strategy. Next spring the leaders will meet in Mexico. Their challenge: a plan to build a North American century.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who held several high-level posts in the United States, is currently Senior Strategic Advisor for McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
EXPERTS IN THE MEDIA

Biden’s push for EV revolution is a ‘win’ for Canada: Policy Analyst

by BNN Bloomberg (feat. Eric Miller), BNN Bloomberg, January 20, 2021

New US Arctic strategies ignore climate risks in focus on geopolitics, experts say

by Melody Schreiber (feat. Tim Choi), Arctic Today, January 20, 2021

From Alberta’s oilsands to tariffs, how Biden’s presidency could change Canada

by Graham Slaughter, Ryan Flanagan, and Rachel Aiello (feat. Sarah Goldfeder, Stephen Saideman, and Laurie Trautman), CTV News, January 20, 2021

Challenges ahead despite major shift in Canada-U.S. relations under President Biden: expert

by Cormac Mac Sweeney and Kathryn Tindale (feat. Colin Robertson), News 1130, January 20, 2021

How Biden’s Made-in-America plan could impact Canadian companies

by Brett Bundale (feat. Colin Robertson), BNN Bloomberg, January 20, 2021

Biden’s plan to cancel Keystone pipeline signals a rocky start with Canada

by Amanda Coletta (feat. Eric Miller), Washington Post, January 19, 2021

The road ahead for Biden’s unnamed ambassador to Canada

by Charlie Pinkerton (feat. Eric Miller), iPolitics, January 19, 2021

Trump’s political legacy: How will the U.S. president be remembered?

by Meredith MacLeod (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), CTV News, January 19, 2021

Canadian Conservatives reckon with fallout from Capitol Hill riot

by Maura Forrest (feat. Peter Donolo), Politico, January 18, 2021

Project Syndicate Commentators’ Predictions for 2021

by Project Syndicate (feat. Robert Muggah), The Washington Diplomat, January 16, 2021

Minding the gap

by CBA National (feat. Lawrence Herman), National Magazine, January 15, 2021


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2021 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email