North American leaders reach broad agreement on continental co-operation
Wed Mar 23, 5:06 PM ET
WACO, Texas (CP) – Prime Minister Paul Martin signed a deal Wednesday that provides for sweeping co-ordination with the United States and Mexico on security, economic and health issues, but there was no sign that thorny trade disputes would be resolved quickly.
During a summit in Texas, U.S. President George W. Bush (news – web sites), Mexican President Vicente Fox (news – web sites) and Martin agreed to boost border security and forge common approaches on cargo inspection and maritime and aviation safety, and co-operation on a wide range of economic and law-enforcement matters.
At a news conference after the meeting, Bush also said U.S. relations with Canada remain healthy despite recent irritants – such as Ottawa’s decision to stay out of the U.S.-led missile defence program, and American obstacles for imports of Canadian softwood and cattle.
“What I’m telling you is that I think the relationship is very strong and very positive,” Bush said. “Just because somebody doesn’t agree with our policy doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to have very positive relations.”
“I’m amazed we don’t have more ‘sharp’ – whatever you call them – disagreements, because we are doing a lot together,” Bush said.
It was clear, though, that Martin made little early headway on his key goal of securing a dispute-resolution mechanism to solve tough Canada-U.S. trade disagreements. Still, he was aggressive in pushing for a resolution of the softwood lumber dispute and pointedly referred to it during the news conference, saying he would talk to Bush about it over lunch.
Bush appeared somewhat frustrated, saying he knew all about the issue. “I’ve heard about it since I became president,” he said.
The comprehensive agreement the three leaders announced also calls for a trinational energy strategy, eliminating varying regulations that are costly to business, and a comprehensive plan to respond to emergency, drug smuggling, illegal migrants and organized crime.
It seeks a North American strategy to deal with “threats to public health and the food and agriculture system.”
The agreement, called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, lets any two countries move on an issue while allowing the third to join later. Cabinet ministers will work on the details and report back within 90 days, and then twice a year.
Martin called the agreement a “roadmap” for “finding practical ways to help our citizens live healthier, safer and more prosperous lives.”
“We are determined to forge and ensure the next generation of our continent’s success,” he said in a statement.
Bush said at the news conference: “We had a good discussion about prosperity and security. It turns out the two go hand-in-hand.”
“We’ve got a lot of trade with each other and we intend to keep it that way,” the U.S. president said. “We’ve got a lot of crossings of the borders and intend to make our borders more secure and facilitate legal traffic.”
Asked whether the deal paves the way for continental integration, Martin said: “What we are talking about here is not a big bang; we’re talking but big progress.”
On border security, he said, “obviously we want to make sure that there is the greatest degree of co-ordination between our defence and our border resources.”
As for the economy, Martin said “getting rid of nuisance regulations, making sure that we have better rules of origin” would help North America compete with rising economies elsewhere, especially in Asia.
Martin’s comments were echoed by Fox and Bush.
“We are talking about a partnership; that is the key word,” the Mexican president said. “All of us have a sense of urgency. We want to make North America the most competitive area in the world.”
On the partnership, Bush said: “I see one based on free trade … We intend to keep our relationship strong for years to come.”
The deal was applauded by Canadian business.
Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (news – web sites), said the partnership is “a very positive step in moving forward on key economic and trade issues that will ensure a more competitive and prosperous North America.”
But in Ottawa, however, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Martin has done little to advance trade issues at the summit.
Martin received a cordial welcome from Bush as he arrived earlier Wednesday at Baylor University in Waco for the summit. Bush, who greeted both his guests at the entrance to the flag-draped library, appeared courteous with Martin and somewhat warmer with Fox.
After the morning meeting, the leaders went to the nearby “Western White House” – Bush’s 700-hectare, canyon-filled ranch – for a lunch of grilled chicken, homemade desserts and homemade cheese biscuits.
They came out of the modest-looking, four-bedroom beige stone ranch house for a walk, with Bush in the middle and trailed by his dog Barney. The three men wore casual dress shirts but no ties or jackets; Martin also had a vest on.
Asked how the ranch was different from his farm, Martin said, “There’s no snow.”
Would he invite the other two to his farm? “I certainly would, right now,” Martin replied.
The less formal get together at the ranch was seen as helping to heal any hard feelings from policy and trade disagreements.