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U.S. urged to look to Canada and Mexico amid energy revolution

President Barack Obama speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. Retired general David Petraeus and former World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who led a task force on the continent for the Council on Foreign Relations, argue that a North American energy revolution and major reforms in Mexico mean U.S. leaders should now have a political interest in embracing their neighbours.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Two American policy heavyweights think this is a moment when the United States can be persuaded to turn its focus to its North American neighbours, such as Canada.

Retired general David Petraeus and former World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who led a task force on the continent for the Council on Foreign Relations, argue that a North American energy revolution and major reforms in Mexico mean U.S. leaders should now have a political interest in embracing their neighbours.

U.S. Republicans are already clashing with President Barack Obama over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – but Mr. Petraeus and Mr. Zoellick argue that's just the tip of the cross-border North American issues that should feature in U.S. political debate.

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The two men will be in Ottawa Wednesday for the Canadian launch of the task force's report, titled North America: Time for a New Focus. Its recommendations, including promoting cross-border energy infrastructure such as Keystone XL, will get a welcome in Ottawa. Both Canada and Mexico have long urged the United States to pay more attention to continental matters.

But in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Petraeus and Mr. Zoellick said they believe there's now an opportunity to move North America to the forefront of Washington's agenda, driven by the economic rewards of energy co-operation, and the argument that North America should be the "continental base" for U.S. foreign policy. In other words, it's good for the U.S. economy, and good for U.S. power.

Mr. Zoellick, who was U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, said he's urged potential Republican candidates to make it part of their foreign-policy platform – and he noted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just visited Mexico and will travel to Canada in December.

Mr. Petraeus, who served as U.S. Commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and director of the CIA, said he's shared the report with politicians from both parties had "lots and lots of response" from Capitol Hill, policy makers, and business leaders.

Mr. Zoellick said the impetus for the task force is "a recognition of some catalytic events that give us an opportunity to focus on North America."

One is dramatic change in the energy sector in all three countries. The United States is developing booming shale gas. Canada has major oil-sands reserves. Mexico, facing declining oil production, is reforming its rigidly regulated energy sector and seeking foreign help to exploit unconventional sources.

That means all three can become low-cost-energy sites for manufacturers, and energy exporters – especially if they co-operate to promote cross-border energy infrastructure such as pipelines and energy grids, the task force argues.

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"We only have to look at Keystone XL to see why that is needed," Mr. Petraeus said.

It is not a case of one pipeline. Linking electricity grids would improve efficiency; Mexico could benefit first from low-cost U.S. natural gas being piped across its border, Mr. Petraeus said.

Another catalyst, Mr. Petraeus argues, is the reforms instituted by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, ranging from a revamp of education to economic deregulation. Mexico must address crime challenges, he said, but "having said that, Mexico has become the fourth-largest auto producer in the world."

The task force goes beyond energy to recommend measures to speed goods across borders, increase worker mobility, and work together in trade talks. It goes beyond economics to suggest the United States should expand security co-operation with Canada, and over time, develop a North American security strategy including Mexico. But it doesn't go so far as proposing an European Union-style bloc or customs union, floated by the council a decade ago.

The cross-border North American issues that should feature in American political debate:

Focus: North America should move from an "afterthought" to the "forefront" in Washington, making it the "continental base" of U.S. foreign policy, and North America offices be created inside the U.S. State Department and National Security Council.

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Energy: With a energy boom in the U.S. and Canada and deregulation in Mexico, the task force recommends strengthening the continent's energy infrastructure, including Keystone XL, expanding U.S. energy exports, and harmonizing regulation policies.

Security: Border security hasn't maximized security for a reasonable cost, and should move to a focus on security at the perimeter, rather than the U.S. border, bolstered by intelligence. The long-term goal should be a "unified" security strategy for North America.

Mobility: North America's immigration laws haven't kept up with its economic integration, and the continent has to improve mobility for skilled workers through North American Mobility Accord.

Source - North America: Time for a New Focus

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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