Business Leaders Have Closed-Door Meeting With NA Leaders

Posted on Friday, April 25 at 14:40 by sthompson

3 leaders advised by members of business elite
Closed-door meeting is part of summit
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
By Jen DeGregorio

Some of the continent's most powerful entrepreneurs had the ears of President Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada at a closed-door meeting Tuesday during the final day of the North American Leaders Summit in New Orleans.

The entrepreneurs are members of the North American Competitiveness Council, an elite group of business executives tapped to advise the Security and Prosperity Partnership, the organization leading the two-day summit. Formed in 2005, the controversial partnership promotes trade and coordination on a range of fronts among the three North American nations.

More than 30 corporate officers sit on the council, representing industries ranging from retail to energy. The group meets periodically to discuss ways to strengthen North America's economic muscle and to "deepen NAFTA," the North American Free Trade Agreement that in 1994 eliminated tariffs and other barriers among the three countries. The council compiles its goals in an annual report to the leaders of the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

"Our recommendations are not necessarily policy, but they are recommendations of steps that can be taken to increase the competitiveness of our economy," said Adrean Rothkopf, a managing director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the council's two secretariats, or headquarters, in the United States. The other secretariat is the Council of the Americas, an international business group whose board members include executives from Exxon Mobil Corp. and Citigroup, among others. Mexico and Canada have their own secretariats.

The council's exclusivity has helped to feed paranoia about the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which some of its more radical critics fear will erase this country's borders with Mexico and Canada, creating the equivalent of a North American Union. A small group of protesters came to New Orleans this week to condemn the partnership.

Even mainstream groups such as Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, have said the council gives too much credence to business interests while ignoring organized labor and other groups.

"What we're mainly concerned about is the venue that they have that nobody else has," Stuart Trew, a researcher with the Council of Canadians, a vocal critic of the partnership and council. "These corporate recommendations are going directly to the respective bureaucracies, and they are being pushed heavily in both countries."

At a private conference Tuesday, the council issued its second annual report to Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The document urges the dignitaries to ease restrictions on cross-border commerce, develop transportation links, standardize safety and fuel efficiency requirements for automobiles and coordinate emergency protocols, among other requests.

The report also expounds on the need to "turn around public misperceptions" about NAFTA, which has in recent months drawn criticism from the two front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination...

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