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Politics Canadian corporations issue vague call for action on lagging North American trilateral relationship

John Manley, head of the Canadian executives council, said in an accompanying release that “closer collaboration” and “enhanced trade” with Mexico and the United States will bring increase prosperity to Canada and its North American partners.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Seeking to kick-start the lagging North American trilateral relationship, Canadian corporate bosses have issued a call for action that's long on vision but short on specifics for tackling the most vexed issues bedevilling Canada, Mexico and the United States.

"Muddling along will no longer suffice," the report says, making a reference to the last "Three Amigos" summit in Mexico where little was accomplished. "We need trilateral agreement on future directions, a clear commitment from the three leaders, and a central agency in each government with the responsibility to co-ordinate effective and efficient implementation," the Canadian Council of Chief Executives report said.

Some expect little progress until after Canada's elections next year and the next U.S. presidential elections in 2016. The Canadian corporate leaders want progress sooner.

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"It is time for the three countries to come together in a fresh drive to sharpen North America's international competitiveness," the report, ambitiously titled "Made in North America," says in anticipation of the next "Three Amigos" summit, to be hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the spring.

Yet the 39-page report with 44 recommendations makes no reference to the Keystone XL pipeline project nor contains the word "visa" and thus avoids directly addressing the most serious bilateral issues bedevilling the Canada-U.S. and Canada-Mexico relationships.

Instead it skirts some issues and only obliquely addresses others.

For instance, one recommendation calls for the three leaders to "pursue a coherent response to climate change" while ducking the reality that the United States is on target to meet its promised greenhouse-gas emissions cut while Canada is on course to fail.

Another calls for all three countries to "accelerate plans to protect the monarch butterfly," which in the report is dubbed "the only truly North American citizen, since its annual migratory pattern takes it across all three countries." But there are no specifics. Another recommendation urges "a co-ordinated North American response to pandemics."

While the report makes no reference to Keystone XL, the long-delayed Canadian export pipeline that has soured the relationship between Mr. Harper and President Barack Obama, it gently echoes Foreign Minister John Baird's demand for an immediate answer from the U.S., even if it's a "no."

Governments should, the report recommends, "co-operate to ensure that the approval process for cross-border energy infrastructure is efficient and predictable, and results in timely decisions."

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Its wording is similarly careful when dealing with another of the vexed Canada-U.S. issues, the long-stalled expansion of border plazas on the U.S. side of several of the busiest crossings. Governments, should, the report recommends, "hire expert advisors to assess the physical layout and workflow of border crossings, starting with the busiest ones" and consider public-private partnerships to finance improvements.

It also urges a trilateral policy of "inspected once, accepted thrice" so, for instance, a container unloaded in Mexico could transit the United States and enter Canada with only a single inspection.

"Closer collaboration and enhanced trade with our neighbours will bring jobs and increased prosperity to Canada and our North American partners," said John Manley, who heads the Canadian executives council, in a statement accompanying the report's release.

The report, a copy of which was provided to The Globe and Mail in advance, makes no reference to the changing political realities in Washington as a result of Republican gains during last month's midterm election.

Republicans will control both houses in the next Congress, which may boost the political fortunes of free traders generally, but may also bring renewed focus on U.S. border security issues.

The report also urges the adoption of a "made in North America" label to affix to products that are manufactured in all three countries.

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"A 'Made in North America' label would provide an excellent foundation for branding the region and its quality products on a global scale," it said.

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