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North America is back on the U.S. agenda. After watching from the sidelines for much of the last decade as others took a leadership role in the global economy, the United States is finally putting itself back in the driver’s seat with an ambitious international agenda that includes a renewed North American competitiveness push. Meeting last week, with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts at a North American Leaders Summit—dubbed the “Three Amigos Summit”--President Obama gave the highest level of political support to a burgeoning, regional economic action plan.
With political attention to the North American relationship on the upswing, there is the basis for a systematic agenda of regional economic collaboration that will reinforce the core strengths of the U.S. economy and enhance competitiveness vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The opportunity rests on several, important building blocks already in place:
- Block 1 – Energy: The United States, Canada, and Mexico each have abundant resources to fuel North American energy independence. The geography of the continent dictates that the most efficient use of those resources will come from cross-border networks, such as the proposed U.S.-Canada Keystone XL Pipeline. Ongoing structural energy reform in Mexico can make a continental energy market possible by opening cross-border trade in energy products.
- Block 2 - Border Efficiency – Business and government alike are beginning to adapt to the post-9/11 security environment at the borders. The implementation and refinement of risk management programs can enable trusted shippers and trusted traveler to facilitate the efficient movement of pre-screened people and goods—this concept is at the heart of bilateral border initiatives between the United States and Mexico and the United States and Canada, respectively.
- Block 3 - Regulatory Cooperation: Too often arbitrary regulatory differences between countries have formed a barrier to trade, even when regulators are seeking the same policy outcomes. Advance consultation and mutual recognition of testing and standards can go a long way toward eliminating the unnecessary differences, while unconditionally preserving the sovereign right of each country to regulate in the public interest. Bilateral initiatives with Canada and Mexico are bridging this divide.
- Block 4 - Trade Policy: Canada and Mexico, respectively, are the top two world markets for U.S. products and services—by a wide margin. Together, they purchase nearly one-third of all U.S. goods sold outside the United States. Since the financial crisis, new growth in exports to Mexico and Canada has supported nearly a half-million U.S. jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing value chains have become deeply integrated across North America, taking advantage of complementary strengths in each economy—meaning, investment in one country supports job creation and growth in all three. This type of inter-connected economic relationship calls for close coordination on external trade policy, something that has emerged for the first time in a serious way through the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
- Block 5 - Private Sector Leadership: Frustrated at times with the lack of official attention to the North American relationships, the private sector has taken matters into its own hands with the creation of a U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue, housed at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Analagous relationships between the U.S. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce are already well established. Through these private sector-led mechanisms the three countries’ business communities are working together to prioritize policy initiatives for all three governments, as well as to provide continuity during political transitions following elections in each country.
- Block 6 - Government-to-Government Dialogue: Active and ongoing public sector collaboration at every level of government—federal, state, and local—is critical to an enhanced North American marketplace. Recent initiatives to create parallel bilateral programs on border efficiencies and regulatory cooperation between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, respectively, has created an important dynamic of high-level consultation and cooperation. The 2013 establishment of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue, chaired by Vice President Biden, promises to take that relationship to the next level.
Building on this substantial foundation, on February 19, President Barack Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper in a Joint Statement by North American Leaders established several actionable outcomes that have the potential to—in the words of the leaders—“open a new chapter in our partnership” and propel our region to the top of the global competitive dynamic. These include commitments to:
- Develop a North American Competitiveness work plan, focused on investment, innovation and increased private sector engagement.
- Cooperate on international trade, so that integrated supply chains are deepened and strengthened.
- Jointly promote trade and investment.
- Develop a North American Transportation Plan.
- Streamline procedures and harmonize customs data requirements.
- Plan for the needs of North America’s future workforce.
- Increase student exchanges.
- Seek out common strategies on energy efficiency, infrastructure, innovation, renewable energy, unconventional energy sources, energy trade, and responsible resource development.
- Work together to address climate change and collaborate in the protection of biodiversity.
- Strengthen regional security.
- Financial inclusion.
- Strengthen preparedness and response to public health events.
- Develop collective solutions to global challenges.
- Shared commitment to transparency and open government across the world.
Taken together, these actionable outcomes represent a significant commitment to North America—three strong, sovereign nations working together, with solidarity aforethought. It requires recognition by policy makers and the public alike that we all have a stake in the success of our neighbors. The responsibility behind this commitment is strategic vision and foresight from governments, business, and citizens, alike, across the United States, Canada, and Mexico; the reward will be a more secure, dynamic, and prosperous future for every American, Mexican, and Canadian.
Well done, Amigos.