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David Dyment
David Dyment

David Dyment

Canada's NAFTA two-step Add to ...

WikiLeaks strikes again, this time to tell us our government prefers to talk to the United States without Mexico.

Remember the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that was launched by Paul Martin in 2005 and included Mexico? It's been replaced by the Canada-U.S. Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness and a joint Regulatory Co-operation Council. Both were announced last month when Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Barack Obama at the White House.

"How best to engage the Americans?" is a central question for Canada. One of the answers has been to embrace Mexico as a continental counterweight.

This is consistent with the idea that, if we deal with the Americans one on one - bilaterally - we're more vulnerable than if there are other parties at the table. Hence the Canadian belief, usually well founded, in what is called multilateralism.

The North American free-trade agreement, which includes Mexico, was signed in 1993, five years after the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. In fact, NAFTA is essentially two trade deals - one between the U.S. and Canada, and one between the U.S. and Mexico - housed under one rubric.

While commerce between Canada and Mexico has more than doubled in almost 20 years, it's still a relatively small 1.6 per cent of total NAFTA trade.

The Canada-U.S. border is a demarcation of two industrial countries, while the U.S. border with Mexico is the longest land border between a Western and a developing country. And the problems one might anticipate along such a border are evident.

Canada and the U.S. and the U.S. and Mexico face different issues. And Mexico is, for the most part, a complicating factor for Canada in its ties with the United States. In our relations with Washington, Mexico can be a source of confusion, a competing supplicant, a cautious ally or an ally of the Americans. Mexico has its preoccupations with the U.S., and we have ours. And there's little benefit in mixing these issues.

We share with Mexico a wariness of the U.S. and can relate to the proverb: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States." We entertained the hope of tying down the hegemon together but, sadly, have discovered that a common strategy is unrealistic and ineffective. As a Mexican foreign minister said: "Mexico and Canada cannot possibly make a sandwich; there is too much meat in-between."

We should nurture our relationship with Mexico on the basis that we're advancing our links with Latin America through one of its leading members, rather than engaging Mexico to get the most out of our relations with the Americans.

Canada's belief in multilateralism in this instance would be justified if NAFTA were to have many more members and morph into a Free Trade Area of the Americas - an initiative that's completely stalled. Yes, there's value in engaging the Americans in a larger community. But, while it might start with Yukon, it must extend beyond Yucatán.

David Dyment, a senior research associate at Carleton University's Centre on North American Politics and Society, is the author of Doing the Continental: A New Canadian-American Relationship .

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