NEW ORLEANS – Mexican President Felipe Calderon says changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement would “provoke considerable damage on the economy” and would condemn North America “as a region to compete from a position of backwardness in today’s world.”
His concern was raised at the two-day North American Leaders Summit meeting here at least partly because of the pressure President George Bush has been receiving on his economic policies, which have included pursuit of a number of additional free trade agreements such as a proposal to establish such trade routes with Colombia.
Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harder responded in defense of NAFTA at a joint press availability at the conclusion of the summit.
When asked if Canada would consider renegotiating HAFTA, Harper said, “We would be ready to do anything that one of our partners wants to do. If one of our partners wants to renegotiate NAFTA, we’ll renegotiate.
But he said it is not something the government of Canada desires.
“The right priority is not to renegotiate something that has been decided,” he said. “This is not the great challenge that we have. When we meet with businessmen and businesswomen, this is not their concern – their main concern. Their concern is the future, not renegotiating the past.”
President Bush joined Calderon and Harper at the joint press availability at the end of the North American Leaders Summit in New Orleans.
The three leaders, standing side-by-side on a stage with a backdrop of the three-flag-emblem riverboat logo designed for the New Orleans summit, reflected the increasing criticism NAFTA and the proposed new free trade agreements with Colombia are receiving, especially in the United States, as the U.S. economy slows down and the presidential election of November 2008 grows closer.
The atmosphere at the New Orleans summit presented a sharp change from the combative support for the Security and Prosperity Partnership these same three leaders expressed at the North American Leaders Summit Meeting in August 2007 in Montebello, Quebec, Canada.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (WND Photo)
There, in response to questions, Bush dismissed SPP critics as “conspiracy theorists” who had no basis for contending the SPP might lead to a North American Union or NAFTA Superhighways.
In New Orleans, by contrast, the three leaders appeared on the defensive, doing their best not to advance the SPP agenda but to save the NAFTA agreement itself, now 14 years old, and persuading their respective national publics that NAFTA has been good for the economies and workers of the three countries and necessary for future North American economic growth.
“NAFTA exists,” Bush insisted. “Now is not the time to renegotiate NAFTA or walk away from NAFTA. Now is the time to make it work better for all our people, and now is the time to reduce trade barriers worldwide.”
Turning toward his latest proposed free trade partner, Colombia, Bush urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote.
“My biggest concern is to turn our back on our friends in Colombia,” Bush said.
“Pelosi has effectively killed the Colombia free trade agreement,” he said. “It’s her responsibility, and she’s going to have to explain why the voices of false populism have been strengthened, why anti-Americanism could flourish, when America turns its back on a strong leader like President Uribe and a friend for democracy like President Uribe.”
Again, Bush characterized the Colombia free trade agreement as an agreement “negotiated in good faith.” He said, “It would be a big mistake for the Congress to turn its back on Colombia.”
Bush also hit back against the Democratic party challengers competing to succeed him, charging, “So people who say, let’s get rid of NAFTA, because of a throwaway political line, must understand this had been good for America, and it’s also been good for Mexico and Canada – and that’s what you want in your neighborhood.”
While the three leaders avoided referring directly to the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, a joint statement they released suggested the SPP “complements the success of NAFTA, which has helped to triple trade since 1993 among our three countries to a projected $1 trillion in 2008.”
Much of Tuesday morning’s summit meeting was devoted to a closed-door meeting between the three heads of state and attending cabinet officers from the three countries with representatives of the North American Competitiveness Council, or NACC.
In an “event backgrounder” the White House handed out to the press covering the New Orleans summit, the following NACC members were identified as meeting in the closed-door session:
- Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce since 1997. He previously served as president of American Trucking Association.
- Michael Haverty, chief of the Kansas city Southern Railway. He began his railroad career in 1963 as a brakeman and completed the company’s management training in 1967. He moved up until he was named president in 1995. Today he serves as chairman of Kansas City Southern as well as Kansas City Southern de Mexico.
- Susan Segal, president of the Council of the Americas. She was appointed to that position in 2003 after spending part of her career with an investment and advisory group focused on Latin America.
- Douglas Stotlar, president of Con-Way Inc., a $4.7 billion freight operations organization.
- Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal. In his 20-year career with NBC he’s worked with production of NBC’s coverage of several major events, including the “Decision 2000” election night as well as the 1993 and 1997 presidential inaugurations.
The NACC is a group of 30 multi-national corporations handpicked by the chambers of commerce in the three countries to provide closed-door advice to the 20 trilateral bureaucratic working groups assigned to “integrate” and “harmonize” North American regulations over a wide range of policy areas.
The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America was first declared on March 23, 2005, at the conclusion of a Waco, Texas, summit between President Bush and Mexico’s then-President Vicente Fox and Canada’s then-Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Attending the New Orleans summit were two of the three cabinet officers assigned to manage the 20 bureaucratic trilateral working groups established under SPP: Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guiterrez, representing the “Security Working Groups” and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, representing the “Prosperity Working Groups.”
Visibly absent was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her absence, and the absence of her counterparts from Mexico and Canada, signaled the meeting had been demoted by the three leaders from the status of an official state meeting where the secretary of state and her counterparts would have taken the lead in an official State Department-level diplomatic agenda.
Also in attendance was Stephen Hadley, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.