Second Annual Trilateral Border Issues Symposium
NAFTA at 20 Years: Toward Greater Trilateralism?
Heard Museum Phoenix March 17-18, 2014
Prepared by Maureen Shields, The School of Public Policy
The second annual Trilateral Border Issues Symposium, held in March 2014 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, brought together leading academics, business groups and government officials from Canada, the United States and Mexico to discuss the state of NAFTA and trilateral North American relations at the twenty-‐year mark of NAFTA’s creation. The 1.5 day conference examined the current state of the comprehensive, and at the time of its establishment, pioneering trade agreement. The discussants analyzed NAFTA from both a policy framework and through a consideration of practical “on-‐the-‐ ground” initiatives already in place. The event focused on whether there is the potential for, and interest in, further expanding a trilateral approach to North American trade and border issues among the three continental partners.
Several themes were repeated throughout the event. There was a general consensus that North American competitiveness must be strengthened, either through NAFTA or through other channels and sector-‐specific initiatives. Most participants agreed that while business and academia have been key in driving the North American vision forward, government and the public at large, notably in the US, have been far less enthusiastic. All agreed that NAFTA, as it stands, has declined in importance among the three partners, especially compared to the proliferation of trade agreements with other states beyond the continent. In fact, it was suggested several times that NAFTA requires modernizing and refreshing. Several speakers recommended moving away from using the term “NAFTA,” and instead utilize more populous language such as “North American economic integration,” or “North American vision.” Throughout the event, emphasis was placed on the dynamism that Mexico offers to the trilateral relationship. The pursuit of initiatives to strengthen Canada-‐Mexico ties was also encouraged.
The renaissance in the North American energy sector was a common thread throughout many of the conversations. Several panelists argued that the new energy landscape presents a great opportunity to develop a continental approach to energy. There was also enthusiasm for the potential spinoffs from a North American “energy boom” including a manufacturing revival that could benefit industries in all three countries and increase North American competitiveness. Issues of sustainability and the environment, related to the development of fossil fuels and beyond, although touched upon during the sessions, were clearly an area where more dialogue needs to take place.
Participants lamented the shortage of North American-‐focused institutions. There were several recommendations for the creation of new institutions and the strengthening of existing bodies, such as: reinstating the North American Energy Working Group; establishing a North American transportation planning agency; and, expanding initiatives such as the US-‐Mexican High Level Economic Dialogue and the North American Development Bank to include Canada. The need for some sort of an “intercessional” mechanism to move the North American project forward in the space between larger visionary meetings, such as the North American Leaders’ Summit, was also identified.
The dialogue, debate and discussion throughout NAFTA at 20 Years: Toward Greater Trilateralism? clearly indicates that there is a strong need to move beyond “talking” to drafting concrete and realistic recommendations on ways recharge NAFTA and the North American vision. With that in mind, the symposium partners intend to host a third annual Trilateral Border Issues Symposium in 2015. The goal will be to bring together a group of leading North American experts that will, through a series of plenary sessions and break-‐out working groups, produce a concrete set of objective and practical recommendations to advance North American economic integration and competitiveness.