Last week the University of the Americas in Puebla held a two-day conference called “Critical Perspectives on SPP: Comparisons Between Canada and Mexico.” The organizers have to be commended for taking on an issue that’s not in the news but has huge ramifications for both countries. And they did it by welcoming rather than avoiding the diversity of viewpoints.
That makes it a little hard to sum up the event or come up with conclusions. Here are a few reflections.
1. There is a conflict between the security and prosperity agendas within the SPP. This observation was echoed by most of the Mexican presenters. Alejandro Estevil of the Foreign Ministry emphasized the need for Mexico to move the focus of SPP from the security agenda to a prosperity agenda aimed at Mexico’s development needs and addressing social issues including immigration. Jose Luis Valdes noted an even stronger contradiction between the security and prosperity agenda, saying the former has been aimed at “unification of the security scheme based on the U.S. model” which has strained the Canada-Mexico relationship. Mexico’s lack of a national security plan has made it easy to impose the U.S. regional plan. Both Canada and Mexico have felt the contradiction in border measures that inhibit trade, and immigration dealt with as a security rather than integration issue. Valdes also pointed out that the central economic issues for Mexico—poverty and inequality—aren’t even on the “prosperity” agenda.
Strategies for dealing with this problem vary. The Foreign Ministry believes that accepting the U.S. security agenda will aid chances to push a stronger prosperity agenda in the future. Others believe that the way to gain attention to social issues is to include them in a broader definition of “human security.” Although there was considerable criticism of the limited nature of both security and prosperity paradigms, there was little sense of the way out.
2. Washington’s influence has hampered Canada and Mexico’s abilities to defend national interests in the SPP and to create a stronger alliance. Canada’s Ambassador Guillermo Rishchynski described North America as a sandwich, with Canada and Mexico as the bread and “the problem is the filling.” U.S. power and particularly its power to set the agenda in the SPP has clearly diminished the possibilities of an effective Canada-Mexico alliance or defense of issues central to those two countries.
3. The Bush government has set the security agenda while mostly U.S.-based transnational corporations lead the prosperity agenda. Whether related to the U.S. counter-terrorism agenda or the recent Merida Initiative, the Bush administration has defined the security focus in the SPP. On the economic side, the North American Competitiveness Council of the SPP has controlled the process from a business rather than public policy perspective.
Civil society’s role in all this has been first as a watchdog, trying to determine what is happening in the process and how it will affect the populations of the three countries. Groups have also tried to affect the trinational agenda, forming their own networks and setting their own agendas, with a special emphasis on the need to integrate immigration reform into the process.