Is a North American Union in the future?
Republic Washington Bureau
Oct. 24, 2007


Mexico, U.S. deny plan for any EU-like merger

Mike Madden

WASHINGTON - Someday soon, you'll be keeping ameros in your wallet, not dollars. The goods they buy will zip freely from Mexico to Canada on an enormous new road. And the United States will merge with its neighbors into a massive North American Union that reigns sovereign over more than 440 million people.

At least that is the vision being raised by a small but vocal group of bloggers, activists and border-security hard-liners.

As the U.S. has increased efforts to cooperate with Canada and Mexico on security and trade, and as the Bush administration has pushed immigration reforms that are extremely unpopular with many conservatives, opponents have become more convinced that North America is heading toward a merger.

Although all three governments strongly deny any such plan, a series of private meetings by top leaders and a sweeping effort to rewrite regulations in all three countries aimed at smoothing cross-border relations have emerged as a lightning rod for speculation, criticism and fear.

The goal of the initiative, known as the Security and Prosperity Partnership, is to ensure that the countries work together to keep weapons and terrorists from entering North America while making it easier for movement and commerce among all three nations. Business groups and advocates of free trade have pushed for even more cooperation. The meetings started in 2005 and grew out of long-standing, less-formal cooperation among the three nations.

But critics say the partnership is just the first step in a much broader attempt to build a "North American Union" modeled after the political and economic integration that the European Union built.

Those who fear a merger see signs everywhere. They cite the dollar's recent decline in value, increasing illegal immigration and attempts to expand free-trade areas in the Western Hemisphere. They also point to efforts to increase trade along Interstate 35, which runs straight up the middle of the United States from Mexico to Canada. In Internet postings about the partnership, I-35 has morphed into a "NAFTA Superhighway."

An agreement in the works to allow Mexican trucks to drive into the U.S. is seen as another tip-off, as is the growing U.S. foreign-trade imbalance, even though China exports more to the U.S. than Mexico and is gaining on Canada.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox recently told CNN's Larry King that "long term, very long term," the goal of free-trade agreements could be a Western Hemisphere united by one currency.

"There's too much evidence. You've got too many things happening," said Jerome Corsi, a conservative activist and author of The Late Great U.S.A., a book that delves into some of the most alarming interpretations of the U.S.-Canadian-Mexican meetings.

Still, to officials involved in the meetings, the idea that the partnership will move to infringe on individual countries' sovereignty is misguided.

"I can tell you that that is categorically wrong, it is misleading, it is false, and that type of information, it just creates tension when it shouldn't because it's not true," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in an interview. "We want to do things that are common sense through regulations that will make our three countries more efficient and more productive. But this has nothing to do with sovereignty."

In August, during a meeting with the Canadian prime minister and Mexican president, President Bush called the idea "comical" and a "political scare tactic," accusing his opponents of "(laying) out a conspiracy and then (forcing) people to try to prove it doesn't exist."

Working together

Although theories about a North American merger may sound far-fetched, they are rooted in negotiations and working groups that all three countries say are important.

In its brief existence, the Security and Prosperity Partnership has produced the kind of dry government documents that might be expected from meetings and working groups that try to treat each nation as equal when it comes to both symbolism and substance.

The U.S., Canadian and Mexican flags dot each release. The partnership has pursued increasing cooperation among public-health labs in each nation and drafting plans for cross-border emergency assistance in a disaster. It also wants to write similar regulations for industries ranging from medical devices to textile manufacturing so companies operating in all three countries can follow the same standards. Members also are pursuing policies that ease entry and exit into each country.

"What we tried to do was simply meet, talk about our common problems and see what we can do in practical terms in order to improve the lives of our people," Mexican President Felipe Calderón said at the past meeting. "Whether it's to standardize the (regulatory) parameters for chocolates or medicines, I think these are common-sense things."

Business organizations that seek increased cooperation among the countries have praised the partnership's work, as have some economists who favor free trade.

"One of the realities of our country is that we live in a global economy," said Maria Luisa O'Connell, president of the Phoenix-based Border Trade Alliance, a group that pushes for more integration and cooperation among the three nations. "From a security perspective, from an economic perspective, we cannot afford not to work together with Canada and Mexico."

The meetings, which are closed, are held every year. This year's was in Montebello, Canada. Bush has invited Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to his Texas ranch for next year's meeting.


Reminiscent of EU

Some of the claims made by critics about plans for a merger appear to be mostly hypothetical. For instance:

• No treaty has been signed or proposed to formalize the partnership, and none of the governments involved has called for integration like the European Union, which issues common currency and passports.

• Although the U.S. dollar is now roughly as valuable as the Canadian dollar after decades of trading at higher prices, both are still worth much more than the Mexican peso. All three nations say they have no plans to set up any new currency or do away with their own money.

• Critics fault plans to build a "superhighway" from the U.S.-Mexican border to the U.S.-Canadian border. But the highway already exists: I-35. There are no known plans for another highway.

Even so, critics see the meetings as dangerous. Many focus more on Mexico than Canada, though the partnership's meetings have been trilateral.

"Our borders have been opened and amnesty (for undocumented immigrants) has been granted through executive fiat by the Bush administration already," said William Gheen, executive director of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, a group that advocates tougher border security and immigration enforcement.

Corsi's book details how the European Union formed out of similar meetings among French, German and other officials. He says denials that anything sinister is afoot help prove his point because EU officials also originally said they didn't intend to set up the kind of multinational bureaucracy that now exists.

Republican primary voters have occasionally pressed GOP candidates to disavow the Security and Prosperity Partnership. None of the leading contenders for the party's nomination have explicitly done so.


Congress takes note

Some of the objections by conservative activists are shared by critics on the left, though not the dire warnings of a North American Union.

"What actually will happen (through the partnership) is that Mexico will continue doing worse economically, and, in fact, the immigration push will grow," said Manuel Perez Rocha, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. The progressive Washington think tank is pushing for the partnership to include more labor protections and economic development in Mexico.

Critics on both sides fault the governments for closing meetings to the public.For supporters, the problem with the cooperation is that they're not moving fast enough, not that they'll erode sovereignty.

The meetings have attracted some attention from Congress. Conservative Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., introduced a non-binding resolution opposing a North American Union in January, and 39 co-sponsors, including Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., have signed on.

Even lawmakers who don't share Goode's concerns say Congress should be more involved in efforts to increase cooperation with neighboring countries.

"This is a White House-driven initiative that has not been worked on by the Congress at all," said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who sits on a cross-border working group with Mexican legislators. "This is not an official agreement, and there's a lot of myths that are floating around."