TOPICS > Politics

Border Issues Loom over North American Summit

August 20, 2007 at 6:05 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: President Bush interrupted his August vacation in Crawford, Texas, to join the leaders of Mexico and Canada at a regional summit, held this year at Montebello, a log cabin resort in Canada’s Quebec province. Resort staff lined up to greet the president. But just outside the hotel’s confines, demonstrators faced off with riot police and held signs protesting the summit and Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan.

It’s the third such meeting between the three nations that make up the world’s largest trading bloc. These summits were originally designed to help figure out ways to tighten border security without affecting tourism and trade. But as President Bush said last year in Cancun, Mexico, the agenda has become more ambitious.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We’ve got big goals for this very important relationship. One goal is prosperity. You can’t achieve a standard-of-living increase for your people unless you have a prosperous neighborhood.

We face prosperity challenges from abroad like never before, the challenge of a growing Chinese economy or the challenge of an Indian economy. And my attitude is, we shouldn’t fear these challenges; we ought to welcome them and position ourselves so that we can compete.

RAY SUAREZ: Some of the issues that dominated last year’s conference, such as trade and border security, still top this year’s. But others are growing, such as Canada’s role in the Afghan war as part of the NATO forces. It’s becoming more controversial in Canada and is expected to top discussions between President Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Some 2,500 Canadian troops are deployed in Afghanistan, and 23 Canadians have been killed so far this year.

Tougher U.S. passport restrictions have caused friction with both Canada and Mexico. In 2008, anyone entering the United States by land from either north or south will have to show a passport.

President Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are also expected to focus on immigration laws. President Bush’s immigration proposals stalled in Congress in June. Since then, he’s issued executive orders to tighten border security and streamline guest-worker programs.

There may also be discussion of U.S. proposals to help Calderon’s government fight an increasingly bloody war against drug traffickers. He’s deployed the Mexican army in the fight, and 1,400 people have been killed in drug-related violence so far this year. The leaders will wrap up the summit tomorrow.

For more on all of this, we get two views. Kim Campbell was Canada’s prime minister in 1993, and Jorge Castaneda was foreign minister of Mexico from 2000 to 2003.

Prime Minister Campbell, let me start with you. For Canadians, what’s the number-one issue in the relationship with the United States? What did Prime Minister Harper have to talk with George Bush about today?

KIM CAMPBELL, Former Canadian Prime Minister: Well, I think making sure that the economy across the border continues to flow. You know, Canada and the United States have the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship. It’s a billion dollars a day.

And then any kind of issues, whether it’s a concern about security or concern about standards, any of these things, stops traffic at the border, stops the flow of goods and services and people. It’s a disaster. It’s hugely costly on both sides of the border, and that’s really a number-one priority in all of this.

The most important issue for Mexico

Jorge Castaneda
Former Mexican Foreign Minister
The immigration issue is extraordinarily important for Mexico, particularly as our economy is not growing as strongly as we would want it to grow.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Professor Castaneda, for Mexicans, what's issue number-one, something that President Calderon was certain to have talked to President Bush about?

JORGE CASTANEDA, Former Mexican Foreign Minister: Well, I certainly hope he talked about the central issue, which continues to be immigration. Now that the immigration reform package seems to be indefinitely postponed or dead in the water in Washington, Jim, I think the key issue would be for President Calderon to bring up with President Bush how unfriendly, how hostile even the series of executive orders President Bush has ordered are, including detentions at the worksite, in homes, the no-match letters sent to employers with fines if they don't fire undocumented workers, continuing work on the fence along the border, which is more talk and more noise than reality, but there is some reality to it.

The immigration issue is extraordinarily important for Mexico, particularly as our economy is not growing as strongly as we would want it to grow.

RAY SUAREZ: Ms. Campbell, Canada has assured the United States it will continue its commitment in Afghanistan through 2009. Is that promise becoming something of a burden for Prime Minister Harper?

KIM CAMPBELL: Well, I think he got an endorsement from parliament to stay there until early 2009, but it is difficult. And, again, Canada did not join the United States in Iraq. When we went into Afghanistan, there was a strong sense of loyalty and support to try and deal with those who were harboring al-Qaida and to try to get rid of a serious threat that imperils all of us.

But with the United States moving personnel and materiel into the war in Iraq, there's a shortage of what is needed to really pursue that conflict to a satisfactory end and a concern that Canadians are becoming bogged down in an unwinnable situation. And I think that is creating a great deal of resentment and concern among Canadians who were nonetheless, I think, very supportive of attacking a challenge to all of our security in the post-9/11 period.

Struggling with Mexico's drug trade

Kim Campbell
Former Canadian Prime Minister
These are important issues. And if we don't get them right, we really will lose the competitive battle, but also lose a lot of opportunities for prosperity and for security.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Professor Castaneda, Mexico's struggles with its drug trade have become more prominent in President's Calderon's public discussions. Is he looking for American help there?

JORGE CASTANEDA: Yes, Ray. Well, they originally wanted to announce at this summit Mexican equivalent of Plan Columbia or a Plan Mexico, with some differences, of course, because there's no major insurgency effort underway in Mexico, big package of aid between $800 million and a $1 billion dollars a year in Mexico over several years, including hardware and software, helicopters, planes, wiretap equipment, et cetera.

They weren't -- the two governments were not able to reach a deal yet on exactly how to announce it. President Calderon needs U.S. support and deserves U.S. supports on these issues, but there are human rights concerns that are important that have to be included in this package. And there are also issues of conditionality.

What are the conditions under which this will be given to Mexico, in terms of the presence of U.S. advisers, trainers, where the Mexican personnel will be trained to use this software and hardware, and whether it will be in Mexico or in the United States? So, yes, there's a huge drug enforcement agenda for Mexico and agenda with the U.S., but at the same time there are complications there which postponed the announcement of this big aid package for the moment, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Ms. Campbell, you began by talking about anything that impedes commerce being a problem for Canada. During discussions this year, Canada won a sort of softening of the deadline for land crossing. Now it's I believe the end of January 2008, citizens on both sides will need a passport to make that processing. Is that enough? Will it be easy for Americans to get to Canada and easy enough for Canadians to get into the United States?

KIM CAMPBELL: Well, I don't think our backlog in providing passports is as bad as you're facing in the United States at the moment. But, you know, it really is a challenge, because people are so used to moving back and forth across that border on business and pleasure.

It's economically fundamental for both of our countries, and yet there is a security issue, as well. We have the world's longest undefended border, and there is a concern to create a security perimeter that will create confidence on both sides of the border that those movements can pass relatively quickly, that there's trust in the documentation, trust in the broader security system. And we've had to deal with that.

It's something that predates 9/11, but the 9/11 brought it into very, very high profile. And I think we have to recognize we have in Canada, you know, the nationalists who are concerned that any kind of collaboration, any kind of harmonization of standards is the thin edge of the wedge of Canada losing its identity. And I'm amused to see that there are people in the United States who think that, you know, what they call "socialist Canada" is somehow going to come down and corrupt them.

But the fact of the matter is, our three countries are the world's largest trading region, the largest energy market. We really have an extraordinary future together, if we can find ways of dealing with the impediments for the movements of the things that we want to move and ways of ensuring that the public is confident that their security and that their standards of well-being are assured.

And I think one of the ways of doing that is to take this process -- this is the third summit in this security and prosperity partnership process -- is maybe to take it a little bit even more public and get the debate more open, because I think President Bush has been a bit quiet about it, even Prime Minister Harper. I don't know how President Calderon is dealing with this in Mexico. He's got a new government.

But these are important issues. And if we don't get them right, we really will lose the competitive battle, but also lose a lot of opportunities for prosperity and for security.

Building a trilateral relationship

Jorge Castaneda
Former Mexican Foreign Minister
President Bush has to understand that he has to combat his extreme right-wing in the United States which opposes any type of greater cooperation with Canada and with Mexico.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor, you heard the prime minister talking about the roles security has played in the trilateral relationship since 9/11. Is this a concern that is equally shared on both sides of these borders? Or is this a question of two close allies responding to what's seen as an American need, an American agenda, American wishes to toughen up both borders, north and south?

JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, Ray, I wouldn't want to speak for the Canadians, obviously. I think in Mexico we've been very forthcoming and very cooperative with the United States since 9/11 on security issues. Some of the things the Americans have asked for, we have done with great difficulty. Others we have suggested and they have accepted. And so I think we've come a long way.

But I agree completely with Prime Minister Campbell, Ray, that this could be a lost opportunity, this summit in Montebello, unless the three leaders really decide that they have nothing to be ashamed of in saying that they want to work towards a North American economic union, towards a North American security perimeter, towards a North American energy market.

If each one of the three leaders because of their domestic weaknesses get so scared of saying anything, of doing anything, of even moving an inch off just boiler-plate rhetoric, then this will be a huge lost opportunity. President Calderon has a lot to say about immigration, has a lot to say about drug enforcement, a lot to say about security.

President Bush has to understand that he has to combat his extreme right-wing in the United States which opposes any type of greater cooperation with Canada and with Mexico, because if he doesn't, they will eventually get to him and the Congress the way they got to him on immigration.

And Prime Minister Harper, I think, also perhaps should be a bit more forthcoming with a more trilateral vision of the relationship, instead of continuing to insist, as many Canadian prime ministers have in the past, that Canada has a better deal dealing bilaterally with the U.S. instead of trilateralizing the relationship, so to speak.

So I hope they really use this summit to move forward instead of standing still and being terrified of what their respective oppositions in the three countries would do to the three leaders if they were more forthright and clear about what they want.

Relationships with NAFTA

Kim Campbell
Former Canadian Prime Minister
What we found is, with the relationship with Mexico, that Mexico and Canada could in many ways not necessarily balance the strength of the United States, because it is very powerful, but come together on a number of issues in negotiations.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Prime Minister, you just heard the professor laying out what could be a skeleton of a trilateral relationship. You were in government when NAFTA was passed. Has it matured into a trilateral relationship? Or really is it really two two-way relationships, Mexico-U.S. and U.S.-Canada?

KIM CAMPBELL: Well, actually, one of the great developments -- you know, Canada went into the NAFTA negotiations reluctantly, because we already had a free trade agreement with the United States, but we didn't want to create a hub and spoke configuration where the benefits would all be in investing in the U.S.

But what we found is, with the relationship with Mexico, that Mexico and Canada could in many ways not necessarily balance the strength of the United States, because it is very powerful, but come together on a number of issues in negotiations.

And it also really opened up Canada's view of the hemisphere. We had not been very north/south-oriented, except with respect to the United States. And our relationship with Mexico through NAFTA really opened up the eyes of many Canadian business leaders to the possibilities of business, not only with Mexico, but with the rest of the hemisphere.

So I think it's been enormously positive, and I think it is precisely that trilateral nature of it that prevents it from becoming, that is, of necessity dominated by the United States, but at the same time both Canada and Mexico have to recognize the relative size and economic clout and military power of the United States and be realistic.

But I think, if we are constantly moving towards policies that are in the best interest of the people, and we build a public support for these policies, because they are in the best interests of the people, and where they are not, we should respond and change them if we're getting things wrong. But I think, if we do that, then I think the North American entity has an extraordinary opportunity to thrive while maintaining the individual identities of the countries.

Interestingly enough, although the Canadian and American economies have become more and more integrated, our societies are actually becoming more divergent. Our attitudes are not becoming more American. America is not becoming more like Canada, although we are starting to talk about a public health care system, so maybe we are getting to you, I don't know.

But I think it isn't a loss of a national identity, but it can certainly be a loss of reaching the full potential of a nation's capacity not to take advantage of the partnerships that geography basically presents to us.

RAY SUAREZ: Prime Minister, Professor, we have to leave it there. Thank you both.