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Homeland Security

17 August 2007

More Transparency Urged on U.S.-Canada-Mexico Security Plan

Security and Prosperity Partnership to be discussed by nations' leaders

Washington -- A trilateral partnership among the United States, Canada, and Mexico is undergoing intense scrutiny as President Bush prepares to meet August 20-21 with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), created in March 2005, aims to form a common approach to security to protect North America from external threats, further streamline the secure and efficient movement of legitimate, low-risk traffic across the three countries’ shared borders and advance collaboration on environmental issues and public health. (See related article.)

The State Department’s Thomas Shannon told USINFO August 17 that the SPP “provides a framework for cooperation among Canada, Mexico and the United States -- ranging from health and the environment to issues affecting North American competitiveness to how we can secure our borders while facilitating legitimate trade and the movement of people.”

Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said that SPP’s “essence is partnership among sovereign countries -- working together we enhance our quality of life, make our economies stronger and our people more secure."

The White House has said that the August 20-21 meeting, to be held at a site outside Montreal, would review progress made in carrying out the ambitious goals of the SPP.

However, some SPP critics have expressed concerns that the partnership will erode the three countries’ national sovereignty, leading to integrated hemispheric court systems and currency, following the model of the European Union.

Christopher Sands, co-author of a Hudson Institute report on the SPP, discounts such criticism.

Speaking about Canada specifically, Sands told USINFO August 16, “I honestly don’t think the Canadian fears” about integration with the United States “are warranted by the SPP.”

Sands said Canadian concerns about losing its sovereignty to the United States date back a few hundred years.

“There’s always the fear that if you’re harmonizing standards or getting rid of differences [between the countries] that the end result will be that Canada looks more like the United States, and … that the United States will look a little bit like Canada,” Sands said.

Therefore, “people fear the loss of sovereignty and the loss of identity” that comes with making binational and trilateral agreements on a host of common issues, said Sands, who is a senior fellow at the Washington-based public policy group.

A U.S. Commerce Department fact sheet on the SPP also seeks to dispel what it calls a “myth” that the partnership would form a “North American Union and establish a common currency.”  Rather, the fact sheet said, the SPP seeks to make the United States, Canada, and Mexico “open to legitimate trade and closed to terrorism and crime.”

The SPP “in no way, shape or form, considers the creation of a European Union-like structure or a common currency,” according to the fact sheet.

The Hudson Institute’s Sands said he wanted to give SPP’s critics “some credit” for their effectiveness in denouncing the partnership.  He said that both “executive-level” and “low-profile” negotiations on the SPP have left many people wondering “what the heck is going on” with the partnership. 

The SPP’s public outreach campaign, Sands said, “has not been great” and many of the agencies involved in the negotiations “are really poor at outreach and media briefings.”  The negative result, he said, is that critics assume the worst about the SPP and the “challenge” for the United States and the other two governments involved is to say otherwise.

Another problem, he said, is that the SPP “has not accomplished much” to date.  But he added that a mitigating factor is that the SPP has been in existence for only a few years.  “Early deliverables” produced by the SPP, along with more transparency about the negotiating process, would help dispel criticism about the partnership, Sands said.

Sands and his co-author, Gregory Anderson, a political science professor at Canada’s University of Alberta, wrote in their 37-page report that the SPP is the successor to two previous efforts on trilateral partnerships that had stalled or expired prior to 2005.  Officials in the United States, Canada and Mexico sought to use the SPP to continue progress toward greater security cooperation among the three countries, the authors wrote.

The State Department’s Thomas Shannon said he views the SPP as helping to improve the economic competitiveness of the three North American countries in the global market, and to improve trading relationships within the region. More important, Shannon said, the SPP allows officials to work together to protect the prosperity and the well-being of the citizens in the three countries.

Shannon said in a July 5 podcast that the SPP respects the national sovereignty of its three member nations, but that the countries “share a common economic space and a common geographic space that we have to protect” from potential outside attack.

The full text of the Hudson Institute report is available on the organization’s Web site.

A fact sheet on myths about the SPP is available on the Commerce Department Web site.

More information on the SPP also is available on the White House Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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