Martin-Bush-Fox Summit in Texas THE “THREE AMIGOS” GET IT WRONG AGAIN
This item appeared in the Toronto Star, March 22, 2005
By Rick Arnold
On March 23rd Paul Martin, George Bush and Vicente Fox met in Texas for a private discussion to
promote a deeper integration agenda for North America. What has become a U.S. obsession with
‘homeland security’ framed these talks and prevented a much more urgent discussion on the
deterioration of ‘human security’ in North America, from taking place.
Talks about North American integration seem to assume that it is a matter for executive decision,
whether among political leaders or the corporate sector. Legislatures are relatively marginalized,
citizens even more so. As issues of integration and options for its shape affect all North Americans,
why is participation so restricted, debate so limited? Civil society has opinions and proposals which
could enrich future discussions on continental integration.
Bringing an end to poverty while simultaneously tackling the inequalities that currently exist among
the three countries should have been at the top of their agenda. The gap between rich and poor in
Canada and the US has continued to grow under NAFTA, while in Mexico more than half the population
(some 53 million people) is condemned to live on less than US$ 3.80 a day. In Texas, the leaders
should have committed to making poverty history.
The three governments have professed an interest in combating a growing list of environmental
problems in North America. However, the United States has refused to sign on to even the modest
targets contained in the Kyoto accord. Canada and Mexico, despite being signatories to Kyoto, are not
pushing rapidly ahead with their implementation plans. Raising these issues might have been
inconvenient, but necessary.
Canada can boast that we have access for all to health insurance and services, a guaranteed priority
for state resources and attention. However, that is not the case for our two neighbours where millions
remain without support. Canada should insist that in any future discussions on North American
integration the three leaders commit to a continental strategy for public and universal health care.
In all three countries, NAFTA has undermined people’s food sovereignty by enshrining privileged
treatment for multinational agribusiness cartels over the rights of farmers and consumers. Mexico’s
agricultural economy is in the midst of its worst crisis ever with 1.5 million small peasant farmers
being forced from the land since the passage of NAFTA. The Canadian farm population is being hard
hit by illegal border closures against a variety of agricultural products. This accord favours centralized
agricultural-industrial production over decentralized farmer production, which in turn threatens rural
economies and the safety of our food supply. The right of all rural and urban people to have their
basic needs met is a key consideration that should have been taken up in the March 23rd Texas, and
requires urgent attention from the “three amigos”.
The obvious foundation for further progress on continental integration would be a commitment to
democratic governance within the framework of international human rights guarantees (economic,
social and cultural as well as civil and political), including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
the American Convention on Human Rights and the San Salvador Protocol on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, and the core labour standards established through the International Labour
Organization. With ratification and implementation of these fundamental rights, discussion might be
encouraged about the appropriate democratic means of furthering participatory debate and shaping
future relations among the peoples of North America.
The ‘three amigos’ should drop all plans to expand on the failed NAFTA model before addressing the
damage done by this accord. Eleven years after the implementation of NAFTA, it is possible to
measure the impact that this accord has had on the people in each of the three countries. As citizens
we have the right to expect that our political leadership will now prioritize tackling problems affecting
social, cultural, environmental and economic rights that accompany economic integration. Before
thinking about deepening the process of integration for the three North American countries, it is
imperative that the experience under NAFTA be opened up to public debate.
Rick Arnold. Common Frontiers-coordinator
Roseneath, Ontario. K0K 2X0