Bush's Last Stand

Posted on Thursday, April 24 at 06:51 by sthompson

Americas Program Commentary
Dissecting the North American Summit Joint Statement: Bush's Last Stand
Laura Carlsen | April 23, 2008
Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

On April 22, Presidents George W. Bush, Felipe Calderón, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded a trilateral summit in New Orleans. The summit marked the fourth meeting of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), which has drawn fire in all three countries since its proceedings are not open to public participation or congressional oversight and working groups are made up only of government and large business representatives. The leaders' Joint Statement and press conference targeted the U.S. electoral process by responding directly to Democrats' recent criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The three leaders reiterated their unconditional support for NAFTA and the SPP, urged passage of the Colombia FTA, and argued for passage of the Plan Mexico aid package.

Below are excerpts from the statement and the press conference, followed by comments:

"The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), based on the principle that security and prosperity depend on each other, is a useful mechanism that helps us to identify and pursue practical solutions to shared challenges in North America in a way that respects our individual and sovereign interests. We each remain open and accountable to our own people."

Since when do leaders find it necessary to state that they "remain open and accountable to our own people"? This is a defensive statement directed at critics of the SPP from both the right and the left. From the right, the SPP has drawn fire for supposedly being a stepping stone toward a " North American Union" which, according to the highly organized John Birch Society and others, would threaten U.S. sovereignty. Progressive organizations have criticized the process for NOT being open and accountable to the people, since in fact it is comprised of working groups made up exclusively of government officials and representatives of transnational corporations with no civil society participation, no congressional oversight, and no full disclosure of its conclusions or recommendations. As attacks multiply from both sides, the leaders clearly felt it necessary to include a rhetorical statement to respond to criticisms, with no indication of what the mechanisms for assuring this openness and accountability are.

"The SPP complements the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has helped to triple trade since 1993 among our three countries to a projected $1 trillion in 2008. NAFTA has offered our consumers a greater variety of better and less expensive goods and services, encouraged our businesses to increase investment throughout North America, and helped to create millions of new jobs in all three countries. NAFTA is key to maintaining North America's competitive edge in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and connected global marketplace."

The praise of NAFTA comes on the heels of statements by both Democratic presidential candidates that NAFTA should be renegotiated. The candidates' positions, in turn, respond to growing popular sentiment that the trade agreement has not benefited the majority of the U.S. population and has led to job loss and erosion of labor conditions. In Mexico, farmers' organizations have called for renegotiation and in Canada new evidence shows deterioration in living standards for poorer Canadians since the agreement. As usual, the defense of NAFTA centers on increased trade while assuming that increases in international trade correlate to improved well-being in society—an assumption not born out by the decade and a half experience of NAFTA. Nor is there any recognition whatsoever that job creation in many sectors has been more than offset by job displacement caused by NAFTA...

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