Feb. 14, 2005. 06:50 AM
Border talks called `disturbing'
Blue-ribbon panel looks at North American integration
Canadian vice-chair insists group has no hidden agenda
OTTAWA�An influential tri-national panel has
considered a raft of bold proposals for an integrated
North America, including a continental customs union,
single passport and contiguous security perimeter.
According to a confidential internal summary from the
first of three meetings of the Task Force on the
Future of North America, discussions also broached the
possibility of lifting trade exemptions on cultural
goods and Canadian water exports.
Those last two suggestions were dismissed in
subsequent deliberations, say members of the task
force, an advisory group of academics, trade experts,
former politicians and diplomats from Canada, the
United States and Mexico sponsored by the New
York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Members said the task force's final report this spring
will focus on "achievable" rather than simply academic
questions like that of a single North American
Nevertheless, the initial debates prompted a sharp
reaction from trade skeptics and nationalist groups
like the Council of Canadians, who fear business
leaders and the politically connected are concocting
plans to cede important areas of sovereignty at the
behest of American business interests.
Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said the
summary, a copy of which was obtained by the Toronto
Star, was "disturbing" and "shocking."
"What they envisage is a new North American reality
with one passport, one immigration and refugee policy,
one security regime, one foreign policy, one common
set of environmental, health and safety standards ...
a brand name that will be sold to school kids, all
based on the interests and the needs of the U.S.," she
She said the discussions have added weight because the
panel includes such political heavyweights as former
federal finance minister John Manley.
Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief
Executives and one of the task force's vice-chairs,
said the summary reflected only preliminary
discussions and scoffed at Barlow's concerns, saying
insinuations of a secret agenda are "totally wrong."
"There is an acute awareness that we have three
independent countries who have no intention of
compromising their sovereignty," he said, adding the
discussions on water and culture particularly "had no
Federal officials stressed the panel is independent of
government policy, and that while efforts will
continue to work with the United States to address
common security and trade concerns, there are no
discussions regarding more formal continental
D'Aquino brushed aside the concerns stemming from the
summary document, saying "every member of the task
force is an independent, the first meeting was
basically a scattering of ideas ... a great deal of
ground has been covered since then."
And where Barlow and others see a sinister plot to
serve the interests of corporate America, d'Aquino
sees an effort to co-operate in the face of emerging
economic powerhouses in Asia.
The document talks about the need to develop a North
American brand, and muses about the possibility of
common immigration and customs policies, closer
consultation on monetary policy and integrated
security policies. Points of discussion included:
"Trilateralizing customs and immigration at airports,
ports and land borders."
"Applying the principle of inspection, one test, one
certification throughout North America" for
"Treating all North American citizens as domestic
investors in each country."