Home | Columns | Media Watch | Reports | Links | About Us | Contact


Column 041105 Mabley

Monday, April 11, 2005


Mexico-Canada-U.S.A. failure at Waco


By Bruce Mabley


I agree with the opinion expressed by Ambassador Andres Rozental, the President of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and Vice-Chair of the Independent Tri-national Task Force on the Future of North America, in his recent editorial published by FOCAL (March 2005, Volume 4, Number 3), who characterized the recent trilateral meeting in Waco as “Much ado about nothing.”  Little was accomplished except several photo opportunities, and the trilateral agenda did not receive much concrete support from the three leaders.


However I disagree with Andres Rozental regarding the reasons for the Waco failure.  This did not happen as a direct result of a failure to lead.  Moreover the interpretive myths that each leader was able to take away and reinforce from the meeting disguise some very real and evolving hemispheric differences over policy and national values.  The fact is none of the three countries have yet to develop policies that reflect a consistent interest in furthering the promise of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and achieving greater economic integration.


Lets take a look at this from a Canadian perspective.  Some of my views might surprise Ambassador Rozental and his Mexican friends.


Perhaps the best starting point is the so- called “special relationship” between Canada and the United States.  According to Rozental, this “Canadian” myth was responsible in part for the lack of leadership at the Waco meeting.  Instead of attempting to promote the trilateral agenda, Prime Minister Paul Martin chose to raise bilateral issues such as the softwood lumber dispute and the closing of the U.S. border to Canadian beef.  Rozental is correct to question this “special relationship” since it has never really been “special,” at least in any positive sense for Canadian interests.


More recently, the Canadian refusal to sanction the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its non-participation in the Bush anti-missile defense system is evidence that the relationship has, at the very least, veered somewhat off course.  However these Canadian decisions have had a significant impact on the trilateral agenda and dialogue.  Canadians are gradually coming to the conclusion that there is no longer anything special in our relationship with the U.S., and even traditional regional interests such as those in western Canada have been turned sour based on the protectionist policies in the U.S.A.  These decisions fly in the face of U.S. attempts to think NAFTA through the eyes of the border security issue.


So one can excuse Martin’s lack of interest in the trilateral agenda given the ongoing trade irritants between Canada and the U.S., to say nothing of a foreign policy that is becoming more independent.


Another reason why Waco failed to produce anything worth noting is the U.S. phobia about border security.  Canada has nothing to gain by talking about borders.  NAFTA was supposed to open the borders.  American chauvinism and post 9/11 trauma has had the opposite effect.  What possible interest could there be for Canada to talk about border security in Waco?  The meeting was bound to fail given the American insistence on talking about security.  All that was left for Martin to salvage for his domestic constituency was, as Rozental candidly admits (as one of the supposed failures of Canadian leadership) “…to mainly emphasize bilateral problems with the United States, thus downplaying the trilateral agenda….” 


Rozental also argues for a NAFTA developmental agenda and regrets the lack of any progress on that either where “nothing was said in the ‘prosperity’ part of the partnership alliance about the need for North America to help Mexico with its development policies, nor about a proposed North American Investment Fund.’”  However this is surely not a failure of Canadian leadership.


With the conservative policies and philosophy of the present U.S. executive and legislative branches, it is unlikely that any substantive progress will be made towards setting up a development fund for Mexico.  The prevailing American view suggests that it would be better to trust market forces to solve chronic underdevelopment.


One only has to shudder at the thought of Paul Wolfowitz planning out World Bank strategies to solve poverty!


Waco produced little because the U.S. imposed agenda had little to do with NAFTA economic integration.  It was essentially about border security and neither Canada nor Mexico is vitally concerned by the U.S. interpretation of this issue that languishes in the long shadow of 9/11.  After all, we (Canada and Mexico) have a more balanced foreign policy, one that is unlikely to incur the wrath of whole peoples.  Both countries share the hopes and promise of international development and diplomacy.  Both countries share a frustration with U.S. protectionist policies that harm our faith in the ultimate fairness of international trade laws.  On this issue, recent export restrictions brought about by Europe and sanctioned by the World Trade Organization find support in both Canada and Mexico. 


In a word, Canada has no “special relationship” with the U.S.  Moreover, it is folly to believe that the U.S. Government is fragmented between Congress and the Executive Branch — anymore than they are separate from the judiciary.  The hallowed separation of powers is a complex web of smoke and mirrors, a mirage as such.  It gives the impression of some real differences of opinion and debate when in reality the message draws its strength and ideological sense from this false fragmented power structure.


The message is basically the same whether it is about the war in Iraq or softwood lumber or shrimp imports.  Therefore lobbying Congress rather than The White House is a prescription for failure rather than a crafty strategy devised by Canadian diplomats in Washington.  Rather we are attacking into the very center of this ideological framework.  As a result, this artful strategy will serve to highlight the same unacceptable message and strengthen American chauvinism.



Dr. Bruce Mabley is Director General of the Centre for Educational and Public Policy Research on the Americas (CEPPRA), in Montreal, Quebec.  He can be reached via e-mail at bmabley@b2b2c.ca.