Watch out friends and neighbors!
NAFTA-Plus is Coming Down the Pipe
I first heard the term “continental integration” in the spring of 2001, at the massive demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City. Later that same year, a man named Robert Pastor, a Washington-based academic who publishes in journals like Foreign Affairs, released a very well-argued book entitled Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New. The book came out just a few days before September 11, and it was ignored in the chaos. Further protest was severely repressed at the next FTAA meeting in Miami, but with the leftward turn in Latin America, the hemisphere-wide agreement had collapsed by the time of the 2004 summit in Argentina: crowds of Latin Americans cheered as Maradona threw the political football to Chávez, who pretty much walked away with the game. Bilateral free trade agreements became the favorite American plan for securing neoliberalism in the hemisphere. Shortly thereafter, the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) also began to take on a whole new face. During Bush’s second term, continental integration was going to come back with a vengeance – like a bizarre return of the European Community to its original place of inspiration, the United States.
It’s hard to say where exactly this story begins, but in 2004 the Council on Foreign Relations (the publisher of Foreign Affairs and the single most important US foreign-policy think tank) joined together with the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives to form an “Independent Task Force on the Future of North America.” Robert Pastor, who apparently fancies himself a bit of a Jean Monnet – the spiritual father of the old “European Community” – was vice-chair of this Task Force, and its intellectual architect. On March 14, 2005, just a few days in advance of a meeting between the US, Canadian and Mexican heads of state in Waco, Texas, it issued a Trinational Call for a North American Economic and Security Community by 2010. At the close of the meeting, Bush, Martin and Fox announced the formation of a strictly executive body, the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). A few months later, the second publication by the International Task Force appeared beneath a now-familiar title: Building a North American Community. Under the auspices of the Security and Prosperity Partnership and with the backing of the American policy wonks, it seems that NAFTA is at last going to be pumped up to the status of a fully integrated economic bloc, in order to compete with the powerhouses of Europe, and above all, East Asia.
A useful introduction to the SPP has been published by Miguel Pickard, at a center-left tank called the Center for International Policy. One of the major aims of this largely secret program appears to be what the Canadians call “deep integration”: by which they mean the formation of an economic community along the lines of the EU, as recommended by Pastor in 2001. This would involve the kinds of large-scale standardization programs that have transformed Europe over the past four decades, along with massive infrastructural investment, particularly in Mexico. The other, fully complementary aim is to provide a unified border perimeter for the new Northern Command (NORTHCOM) instituted by the Pentagon in 2002. This would not mean abolishing the borders as many right-wing conservatives believe, but instead, it will mean introducing biometric passports and integrated administrative and police systems for the tri-national region. The techniques to be used in attaining these goals, according to the Council for Canadians which runs the most complete critical website on the SPP, are not FTAA-style treaty negotiations, but regulatory measures that escape media attention and any democratic oversight. The North American Community will have already come down the pipe before most citizens have even heard of it.
An excerpt from Robert Pastor’s testimony to the Senate Foreign relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, on June 9, 2005, gives a good idea of the scale of this continental “community”:
In the eleven years since NAFTA came into effect, U.S. trade (exports and imports) more than doubled with its two neighbors— from $293 billion in 1993 to $713 billion in 2004. Annual flows of U.S. direct investment to Mexico went from $1.3 billion in 1992 to $15 billion in 2001, and the stock, from $14 billion to $57 billion. The annual flows of U.S. investment in Canada increased eight-fold, and the stock of FDI increased from $69 billion in 1993 to $153 billion in 2002. Canadian investment flows to the United States grew from a stock of $40 billion in 1993 to $102 billion in 2001.Travel and immigration among the three countries also increased dramatically. In 2004, people crossed the two borders about 400 million times. The most profound impact came from those people who crossed and stayed. The 2000 census estimated that there were 21 million people of Mexican origin in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of all Mexican-born immigrants arrived in the last two decades.North America is larger than Europe in population and territory, and its gross product not only eclipses that of the EU but also represents one-third of the world’s economic output. Intraregional exports as a percentage of total exports climbed from around 30 percent in 1982 to 58 percent in 2002 (compared to 61 percent for the EU). Our two neighbors export more energy to us than any other country, and U.S. exports to them were nearly twice those to all of Europe and nearly four times those to Japan and China in 2004. North America is no longer just a geographical expression. It has become a formidable and integrated region.
The people who have been paying attention to this in the US are mainly the conservatives, headed up by Jerome Corsi, author of The Late Great U.S.A.: The Coming Merger with Canada and Mexico. Further downstream, on websites like “World Net Daily” where Corsi also publishes, they write feverish articles about things like the construction of a NAFTA superhighway, a plot to replace the dollar with the “amero” and a conspiracy to create a North American Union. The reality is a little more calm and deliberate, and a lot more likely to succeed. The map shown above was published by the North American Super-Corridor Commission (Nasco), a trinational consortium of public authorities and private enterprises seeking to expand, integrate and rationalize the existing transportation and communications infrastructure. This is the same kind of thing that is already going on with Plan Puebla-Panamá in Mexico, and, as the conservatives no less than Pastor himself would be quick to point out, the Nasco super-corridor is in fact comparable to the vast corridor-planning projects initiated by the EU some two decades ago, with the Trans-European Networks. But you have to realize that this kind of corridor-planning originated in the US, and even more importantly, that the US was a prime mover in the process of European integration itself – in order to keep the peace after WWII, to provide an economic foundation for NATO, and to open up a new continent-sized market for US-based corporations. So the techniques of bloc-formation are really just coming back home to roost. The Nasco project is only one aspect of a “coming community” that will be less a political union than a corporate platform for capitalist production beneath the sovereign umbrella of the US military. If all this continues to proceed under a media blackout, and by way of purely executive decisions, the new bloc may elude even the rather slim degree of democratic representation and social bargaining power that has been instituted in the EU.
The outlines for this new production platform are emerging from the brand-new North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), launched as a “public/private sector dialogue on the SPP” at a meeting convened on January 10-11, 2006, by UPS, the Council of the Americas and the North American Business Committee. The report delivered by this corporate advisory board to the meeting of the “security and prosperity Ministers” on February 23, 2007, gives the clearest idea so far of what’s really in store. Here is an excerpt of the section entitled “Our Vision for North America,” focusing on the new business problems brought by the contemporary international situation:
Beyond North America … the world has changed and continues to change dramatically. The emergence of new economic powers such as China and India is transforming patterns of trade and investment around the world, creating intense new competition for existing enterprises in every industry. Other countries have responded with more aggressive efforts to reduce their own barriers to trade, leading to a proliferation of new bilateral and regional agreements, chipping away at the relative advantages provided by the NAFTA. And the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ushered in a new era of global conflict that has created a need to rethink the notion of security throughout the region.
Nonetheless, it is imperative that this heightened focus on security does not impede the economic efficiencies created by the NAFTA as companies in all three countries face the need to anticipate and adapt to changing markets more quickly than ever. Because production patterns within North America have become so closely integrated, any tightening of the borders between Canada, Mexico, and the United States threatens to erode the North American advantage created by the NAFTA. Goods imported into North America from overseas face customs inspection only once; goods produced and sold within the region, however, typically must cross borders many times as value is added to raw materials that eventually become finished goods.
Every measure that adds to the cost or time to cross borders within North America is in effect a tax on enterprise, a tax on investment, or a tax on jobs across the region, which ultimately results in incremental costs for the consumers in all three countries. Through the SPP, government Leaders have recognized that ensuring the safety and prosperity of the citizens of all three countries requires us to work together, and to the greatest extent possible, ensure that decisions about security and about economic policy are mutually reinforcing rather than conflicting.
The point is perfectly clear: North American elites, including those in Mexico, will be abundantly willing to cooperate on the production of a new security architecture, utilizing the most modern methods of population control, so long as it does not interfere with the freest possible flow of goods and services. As the Competitiveness Council observes in the same document: “A single joint trusted traveler program is needed as soon as possible. The three governments are currently working on developing standards for alternative forms of identification, including the introduction of smart cards with embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and biometrics, such as fingerprints and iris scans, to confirm an individual’s identity and citizenship.” The NACC’s big concern is to impose a single standard of ID technology, in the name of tri-national efficiency. With networked databases accessible at every border checkpoint, trust could be enforced on half a billion people. What aims that will serve, other than economic and power-political, remains a mystery.
As all these developments show, there has been a concerted effort to institute new rules of the game for continental integration after the period of disruption introduced by September 11. In the long wake of that epoch-making event, scare talk of terrorism still agitates the media. Fear is what we’re offered for “community.” But how the people who live in North America can prevent the continent from becoming a fully integrated and ecologically disastrous production platform, strictly policed with biometric identification devices to ensure full control over the mobility of individuals and over their social and political freedoms, would seem to be the real question of the day.