In March 2005, a report of the Task Force on the Future of North America, a precursor to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), was leaked to the Council of Canadians who subsequently posted the document to their website. The document claimed that "No item - not Canadian water, not Mexican oil, not American anti-dumping laws - is 'off the table'; rather contentious or intractable issues will simply require more time to ripen politically." Business leaders are trying, via the SPP, and other means, to extend the NAFTA trade agreement. NAFTA is unique in several ways, including the presence of Chapter 11: Investor-State Dispute Resolution, which allows corporations to directly challenge governments. The WTO agreements and many others allow only state-state dispute resolution, which requires getting government on-side and is therefore far less attractive to the big business community than NAFTA-style language.
A little later in March 2005, Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mexican President Vincente Fox, and U.S. President George W.
Bush signed the SPP agreement. The SPP was backed strongly by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the U.S. Council on Foreign
Relations, the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, and as well as by some academics, diplomats, and officials. It was not debated or passed by parliament or congress in any of the three countries.
Three high-level bureaucrats from each country (including US representatives Condoleeza Rice and the Attorney General) formed a
working group which was charged with creating goals and moving forward with the SPP project. Leading up to their deadline of June 2005, they signed many memoranda of agreement; when the three leaders (this time, Fox, Bush, and newly-elected Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper) met in Cancun, they published a joint statement identifying the following initiatives for the coming year:
Strengthening Competitiveness in North America - they set up the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) with private sector representatives from each country to provide "recommendations on North American competitiveness, including, among others, areas such as automotive and transportation, steel, manufacturing, and services."
In March 2006, the Policy Research Initiative (an initiative of the Canadian federal government) produced a research paper called "The Emergence of Cross-Border Regions Between Canada and the United States" following a series of one-day roundtables held in 6 Canadian cities. Among those invited were "business associations, cross-border regional organizations, public policy think tanks and research institutions, academia, and all levels of government" (p. 1). They identified a number of cross-border regions which "exhibit a certain level of economic and organizational linkage as well as socio-cultural similarities" (p.2). One of the regions that was identified was Atlantica: the area shared by the Atlantic provinces and northeastern States.
A great deal of the Atlantica background work has been done by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and by its director, Brian Lee Crowley (notes taken from a talk he gave to the Maine Business to Business Showcase in April 2005). They've worked a lot on what they call "AINER" (Atlantica: the International Northeast Economic Region), which in their books, "is defined chiefly by geography, economic trends, and trade patterns; common problems and experiences; and politics." Not only do they not know how to use semicolons, they also neglect to discuss education, social services, environmental agendas, and other important issues of civic concern.
In June 2006, AIMS organized an Atlantica conference in St. John, New Brunswick. The conference brought together powerful business interests from both sides of the border and triggered a series of protests. The success of Atlantica will likely provide an action plan for opening borders between other regions in North America.
Atlantica is just one part, perhaps one of the first parts, in a fresh round of trade liberalization that also involves initiatives like NAFTA and the SPP. Post-911 North America has become a world favourable to corporate interests - particularly when corporations attach their free-market goals to broader national security interests.
Atlantica is the tip of a free-trade iceberg, one which will expand NAFTA, entrench the SPP, and provide impetus for building the North American SuperCorridor. The common drive, according to Maude Barlow, is a"commitment to building a kind of European Union in North America, but without the environmental, social and human rights safeguards that were in the original European Union."
It's part of a global economic system which has a lousy environmental and social track record
It's a subset of NAFTA, the SPP, and other measures intended for closer economic, security, and military ties.
It's top-down. Think-tanks and business interests are working with governments. Public interest groups are not invited to the table; this policy-making model sets a bad precedent for future trade negotiations.
It runs counter to the many sustainability projects which are already in action. Such projects will likely be dismantled or simply over-run.
It fails to acknowledge alternative models of economic and political organization which are being organized by citizens in our countries.
It threatens natural resources and water.
For water: "Threats to Our Water: NAFTA, SPP, Atlantica, Super-Corridors" (PDF of slideshow presentation) - by Dr. Janet M. Eaton for Sierra Club's Water Privatization Task Force. Dr. Eaton explains how these trade agreements promote the privatization and sale of water (primarily from Canada to the U.S).
The Independent Task Force on North America was organized by the United States Council on Foreign Relations, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (all groups which lobby governments on behalf of their countries' largest corporations). It advocates for a North American Union (though its language rejects a "political" union), entailing a greater integration between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
Part of the AIMS (see the Atlantica section for more on AIMS) proposal for Atlantica is to establish Halifax as a "Super-Port" and have the city become a transportation gateway to the continent. Super-Ports are be able to accomodate "post-panamax" container ships - those ships too large for the Panama Canal. Halifax would be just one part of an enormous transportation corridor linking ports in Mexico (Mexico being a source of cheap truck-drivers, dock-workers, and other import-export infrastructure) to the American consumption hubs and resource-rich Canadian regions. According to Dr. Janet Eaton, corporations like Costco and Walmart are already starting to build distribution centres near Lazaro Cardenas, a port-city in Mexico slated to take over a lot of the Los Angeles/Long Beach port traffic. With hubs in Mexico, these corporations can hire local cheap labour, find Mexican truck drivers, and cut back on the number of distribution centres they have in the United States and Canada. They can also import goods extremely cheaply from China.